A Guide to Worship at College Heights Church

Written January 2002

Worship is a ‘receipt’ given to God in return for the divine gifts of life which we receive…. It is an artful response to our awe and wonderment at the miracle of creation which surrounds us….. It is creative inspiration to live out the law of love in our church community and wider world. Worship centers us, grounds us, and uplifts us, reminding us of who we really are and of what we are called to become. Through it we can prayerfully share truth as God reveals it to us in our emotions and intentions.

Our church employs the rich traditions of Christian liturgy (a Latin word meaning “work”—the holy effort of worship). We recognize that ours is but one of many valid and helpful languages of prayer and praise, so we aim to use our Christian symbols and rituals in ways that are as respectful as possible toward the religious heritages of others. To remind ourselves of the infinite number of ways that God can be named and glorified, we occasionally use liturgical elements from religions other than Christianity, such as chants or readings. We are a congregation of the United Church of Christ, which is part of the Reformed Protestant heritage, and this history influences the shape of our worship. At the same time, we are a church that from its beginning about 40 years ago has had a unique calling to do worship in fresh and original ways that have inspired other churches. College Heights’ worship is shaped by a monthly gathering called “Worship and Arts”, at which we plan our upcoming services. (Any member or friend of the church is welcome to attend this meeting.) This guide reflects our usual form of worship as it happens today – but this can and will change as the Spirit moves us to worship in ever-changing ways.

 

The Sanctuary: Our Place to Worship

Our sanctuary was built in 1965. It was intended for use as our social hall, with a sanctuary to be built later at the site where the condominiums are now located next door. (That parcel was sold later to pay off the remaining debt on our property.) The building was remodeled and repainted in 2001.

Our ‘sanctuary’ is just that – a safe and sacred place. It is an environment that is set apart for worship, but also is set apart for living out the good news of the gospel, even if that means standing against the “powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6: 12) of the world. This is a place that we sincerely believe to be under an authority higher than that of governments or other social forces, for purposes that transcend even those of our church as an organization. We are committed to protecting this space for the work of advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and for protecting human life and dignity, at all costs.

On the wall of the church you will see a cross made of tree branches. The cross is a powerful focus for worship in most Christian churches. Some churches, particularly Catholic parishes, have crucifixes with images of Jesus on them, focusing on his sacrificial death. Others, mostly Protestant churches like our own, show an empty cross, emphasizing the resurrection. Either way, the cross is much more than a decoration. It is a profound statement of faith that can be understood and interpreted at many levels. The cross was intended by the Romans as a symbol of state power – a reminder of the terrible death that would come to anyone who defied it. Jesus, and the early Christians, turned that meaning inside out and upside down. For the early church, the cross was transformed into the sign of salvation, of the victory of life over death. It demonstrated the weakness of the Roman Empire and the strength of the Kingdom of Heaven. Think of all the ways that nations today try to frighten or threaten their citizens, or other nations, into obedience. The cross reminds us that there is a higher power than the state – a divine power that calls us to civil disobedience against this kind of brutality and war-mongering.

 

Suggestion: A Meditation on the Cross

In Numbers 21:9, Moses lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole in order for the people of Israel to gaze on it and be cured of snake bites. Jesus said in John 3:14 “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up… ” The snake on the pole (reminiscent of the caducous, the snakes on the pole that form an ancient symbol of medicine) was an example of homeopathy, an ancient form of medicine that exists today. Homeopathy is the idea that a dose of that which ails you is the cure -vaccination might be thought of as a homeopathic remedy. A dose of the snake – a confrontation with its image – was the cure for the bite of the snake in the biblical legend. Likewise, Jesus suggested that a dose of evil and death – delivered by gazing at the cross – was the cure for the human condition of suffering. It is a paradox, but despite its seeming contradiction, it works! Healing and reconciliation begin with an honest, direct encounter with pain and its sources. But so much of the time, we avoid pay ing real attention to this pain. Instead, we buy into the culture around us, which tells us that pain is to be avoided, masked, drugged, denied. We buy into the culture around us that tells us that life is about bigger and better things – the upward trail of progress. Meanwhile, the cross tells us something completely different: that human life is about loving each other through the inevitable suffering that is our human condition.

Gaze at the cross on the wall of the church, and focus on its center – the place of the heart of the suffering Christ. Notice your own sufferings as well as the sufferings of others around you and of people in the -wider world Name them -pain, unfulfilled desire, existential emptiness, frustrated ambition, anger, resentment, fear – oppression, poverty, pestilence, war — as you gaze squarely at the intersecting point of the cross. This is your reality, and the reality of the human race of which you are apart. This is the reality of the crucified Christ. You are not alone. Jesus suffered with you. The Christ – the human encounter with God- is fully and compassionately present in every pang of misery that you and other human beings experience.

When you are fully conscious of the true extent of your suffering and that of others, pull back your gaze and notice the cross as a -whole. Its arms point out in the four directions. It is empty – the Christ has risen. There is life on the other side of suffering and even death This, too, is the human condition – to go through suffering, and to find an eternal kind of life beyond it. Receive that life now as you gaze at the empty cross…..

 

Art and Photography at College Heights

As Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking on Water, puts it: “If I cannot see evidence of incarnation in a painting of a bridge in the rain by Hokusai, a book by Chaim Potok or Isaac Bashevis Singer, in music by Bloch or Bernstein, then I will miss its significance in an Annunciation by Franciabigio, the final chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, the words of a sermon by John Donne.” (p 450) Art is not Christian because the person who made it is a Christian, or because the artist intended it to depict a Christian subject. The connection between Christianity and art is in the eye of the beholder: a person who sees the world through the lens of the gospel will find signs of the Christ in all kinds of creativity, whether or not this was the conscious intention of the artist.

It is in this spirit that the walls of our church are graced with paintings, drawings, and photographs, in an ever-changing display. The displays are a worshipful celebration of the divine gift of vision and skillful creativity. Much of the art on the walls is the product of our creative members and friends. Some displays make an obvious statement about matters spiritual, while others require the exercise of prayerful imagination. Some of the art is for sale (the church is given 20% of the proceeds of such sales): look in the entryway for further information about the displays.

 

The Eucharist: Focus of Worship

Worship at College Heights is centered in our monthly celebration of Eucharist. The Eucharist (a Greek word meaning “good gift”), or ‘communion’ or ‘Lord’s Supper’, is the ritual of sharing bread and wine. From the very earliest days of the church, it has been the focus of Christian worship. It recalls the moment (Mark 14: 22-25) when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples before his death. Some churches (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and others) celebrate the Eucharist every week, but most Reformed Protestant churches, including ours, perform it monthly (in our case, on the first Sunday of every month). We also offer the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday evening as part of our remembrance of the Passover meal of Jesus and his disciples during Passion (Easter) Week, and on Easter Sunday morning, remembering the resurrection story in which Jesus reappeared to his disciples when he broke bread with them (Luke 24: 13-34). Usually we celebrate Eucharist at the end of our worship, in our closing circle around the altar. We wait till all are served with bread and then eat it together, and we wait till all have been served the wine or water in little cups before drinking together (except for those who choose to come forward to drink from the common cup of wine or of milk and honey, which represents the milk and honey of the Promised Land of Israel and the promised Kingdom of Heaven). The Eucharist has as many meanings as there are members of our church – and more! It is a physical expression of the spiritual reality that we need each other, and we need God, as much as we need food and drink, in order to survive, body and soul. For some of us, the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, offered up to God as a sacrifice to cleanse us of our sins. For others, the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine are a breaking open and pouring out of the love that is God, through the Christ who dwells in each of us. For others the ritual is simply a moment of deep bonding and sharing with the other members of our community. As we share the bread and the wine, so we also share the many different meanings that the Eucharist has for us

All people – young and old, traditional believers and friendly skeptics, baptized and unbaptized – are welcome to share in the Eucharist at our church. But if for any reason you do not wish to take the elements (the bread and wine), you need not be embarrassed to refuse them as they are distributed – we will commune with you simply by being present with you in the circle!

Our communion table is the visual and physical focus of all our worship services, reminding us always that the Eucharist is the central moment of our worship life. It was built especially for our church as a memorial to Bill Kelley, an early member of our church. We also call it our “altaf*.

The earthenware goblets and plates used in our Eucharist were made by our member, Susie Stone. The bread used in the service is often made by members. We follow an ancient tradition of the church by offering the leftover bread to our children after worship. What they don’t consume, adults are welcome to enjoy during the “coffee hour”!

 

Suggestion: A Way to Celebrate Eucharist

So much of the time, we eat and drink mindlessly – -we don’t pay that much attention to how it tastes or feels. We don’t spend much time savoring it -focussing our attention on the food itself, rather than on conversation or on other things that are on our minds. The communion ritual offers a chance to mindfully eat bread and drink wine. One meditation to employ awing the ritual is to pay attention to everything about the bread- its texture, flavor, sweetness or sourness, yeastiness, saltiness. Then pay attention to the wine. We don’t use fancy wine for our communion ritual, but the cheap -wine of today is still vastly better in flavor to the rotgut beverage that people drank in the first century! (There was no clean drinking water, so almost everyone drank bad wine every day – the alcohol in it killed the microorganisms that were otherwise present in the public water supplies.) So savor the flavor, the aroma, and the consistency of the cheap but good communion wine, paying real attention to the experience at every level of your senses. And meditate for a moment on the work of the people who made the bread (often our own members) and the wine. Then, as the chants are sung and the little glasses are collected back into the trays, pay attention to the human beings that surround you in the circle. Savor their presence: notice the beauty in each of them, all ages, all sizes, all shapes, all ways of living and being — open your heart to them. Commune with them with as much attention and intention as you put into communing with the bread and wine. Then, as the chants continue, imagine the millions of human beings who have eaten the bread and wine with attention and intention over the past 2,000 years of Christianity. Imagine that vast community of faith being culminated in this very moment. Imagine that you have eaten bread and drunk wine not just for yourself, but for all of those who have gone before, and for all who will come after you.

 

The Communion Table: Preparing the Altar

The appearance of the Eucharist table at College Heights changes from week to week, and the position of it moves with the seasons, as well. In the rainy season, the congregation faces northeast, and in the dry season, it aims southwest, so that we can enjoy the play of light shining into the sanctuary. The decoration of the altar by members who sign up to do so is a form of worship in itself… a loving offering of beauty to God, a creation which will be seen today and gone tomorrow. The altar itself reminds us of the transitory nature of our physical existence, the temporality of our gifts and our achievements. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount to “consider the lilies” in the grass of the field which “is alive today and tomorrow is thrown in tile oven”. “Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6: 25-33) Everything we achieve and produce will wither and fade, just as the flowers and other altar decorations grace our lives for only a short time. Our lives are like decorating an altar for an hour on Sunday – an opportunity to worship God with the care and creativity and intentionality we can bring to every big and little task that we do, accepting its fleeting nature. Some of us decorate the altar with a beautiful stark simplicity, others with flair and drama, others with nothing but items from nature, celebrating God’s creativity. The altar celebrates God’s creativity in giving each of us a unique way of expressing ourselves.

The altar is placed near the walls but far enough away from it that we can gather around it during our closing circle. But at Christmas and Easter, we place it in the middle of the sanctuary, to set apart these special moments in our liturgical calendar.

Suggestion: The Altar

To prepare for worship, and to prepare for volunteering to decorate our altar, take care each evening to decorate your dinner table -with flowers, objects, cloths, candles, or anything else that is meaningful to you and your family. Take the time and trouble to do this, changing it daily or periodically. And when you remove the table decorations, do it •with as much loving attention as you took in placing them, meditating on the transitory nature of all beauty and creativity.

 

The Order of Our Worship

The service begins with the ringing of the bell that hangs in one comer of the sanctuary. This bell is a brass artillery shell salvaged from a junkyard. It reminds us of the hopeful promise in Isaiah 2: 4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Christian faith is a bold assertion that death shall not have the final word. The bell awakens us to the presence of God and invites us to hear and see and share the Gospel once again.

After the opening bell, we share news of the church, greet each other, and sign in on the clipboards. If you would like to get our monthly newsletter by email or snail mail, put your address on the clipboard. You can also jot comments or even draw pictures on the clipboard sheet, in addition to signing your name. (Some of these doodlings wind up becoming the art on the covers of our worship bulletins! If you have some art you’d like to have used for this purpose, or have an inspirational quote for the back of the bulletin, feel free to propose them to the minister.) Signing your name helps all of us to learn and remember each other’s names as the clipboard goes around, and is very helpful to the minister in getting to know people in the church.

After another sounding of the bell, we listen to an offering of music – usually instrumental. Then comes a call to worship – a poem or a short line from the Bible -followed by the first hymn. We use an eclectic mix of hymns and songs in worship, ranging from folk to jazz to traditional Protestant church hymns. The black book. The New Century Hymnal, is used by many United Church of Christ congregations nationwide. Some of its hymns are old standards which have been slightly (and sometimes extremely!) modified to reflect the evolution of our values away from sexism and away from religious chauvinism. It also includes more modem hymns from many different musical traditions worldwide. We have our own home-made songbook as well, which contains some hymns written by our own members, and also a book of chants which we often use in worship. And we sometimes use the little green Catholic folk-mass hymnal. Exult.

The hymn is followed by prayer. Prayer is introduced with a time when anyone in the congregation can share a name or a concern or celebration upon which we can focus in the time of silence. The Tibetan bowl is struck three times to begin silent prayer and meditation. After a while of silence, the chant begins – a short piece of music which we repeat meditatively. Our congregation has learned at least 60 chants – a very important and continually developing part of our worship tradition. Several – such as the Pilgrim Chant and the Awakening Chant by Jim Garrison – were written by members of our congregation. Silent prayer and meditation is a very important part of the life of our church, and of the lives of many of our members. For a look at our church’s Guide to Meditation and Prayer, have a look at the brochure on the entry table, or read it online at www.openchristianity.com.


Suggestion: How to Pray

Some Christians have a supernatural conception of prayer – that it is communication with an all-powerful being that literally hears our verbal prayers or literally reads out minds when we think a prayer. Others, including a lot of us at College Heights, look at it differently: as a discipline of direct connection with God. One form this can take is the following meditation:

During the time of silence, and through the time of chanting, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings – both mental and physical. What is going on in you, body and soul? What are you thinking about? What are you sensing within and around you? After a while of observing yourself, you may notice that you take on the role of the observer rather than that of the observed. This inner observer of yourself is God. Continue to lovingly observe yourself and the environment and people around you. If you have a judgment about yourself or others around you, observe it – but release your identification with it. Notice your attachments and your desires, your sentiments and your resentments, but identify with the One who lovingly observes them, rather than just with the one who is wallowing in them. Focus this love and acceptance on others, as well – notice your intentions toward other people. What can you be or do for them? How can you translate your best wishes for others into concrete actions that can be helpful to them?

As the chant continues, any and all are welcome to come forward to the altar to light candles as a way of focusing attention and intention in prayer. It is also a time for those who wish to come forward for anointing with oil on their foreheads with the sign of the cross, as a way of amplifying intention on the healing of body or soul. Anointing with oil is a very old Christian tradition, and it is a physical way of experiencing the Christ (the word “christos” in Greek means “the anointed one” – the early kings of Israel were ‘crowned’ by having their heads anointed with oil). We rub the oil, or “chrism” as the Catholics call it, on the forehead just above the line of the eyebrow – in many world religious traditions this spot is considered the location of the “third eye” of insight. Quite apart from any esoteric understanding of this spot, most people love it when they get massaged on the forehead between the eyes – especially with a dab of soothing olive oil! The early Christians anointed the sick with oil (James 5: 14), and this ritual became one of the sacraments of the Catholic tradition. All the oil used in this ritual has been blessed in a special ritual in worship at College Heights, infusing it with the intentions of the whole congregation for the purpose of being a means of healing and wholeness.

Suggestion: Anointing

If you wish to be anointed, come forward and receive the anointing with oil on your forehead. Relax your face, your head, your neck, and your whole body as you receive the massage in the sign of the cross. Remember that you have a body, and remember that it is a divine temple — a dwelling place for a soul that is of the same essence and substance as God. Remember that you want and need to be whole – complete, in body and soul. Remember that you not only want to be healthy and whole, but you deserve it as much as any other human being. Pay attention to the part of you that needs healing – a body part, a place in your soul. Consciously and clearly focus your attention on your desire to be complete and whole, to be relieved of suffering, and to find spiritual peace in the midst of suffering. Ask for healing and wholeness, with your heart open to the many forms that this healing might take. For some, it might mean full restoration of the body or soul. For others, it might mean finding peace and fulfillment in the course of an incurable condition.

 

The Word: Scripture and Sermon

The prayer time ends with the ringing of the Tibetan bowl. Then it is time for the reading of the scripture, which usually is a passage from the Hebrew texts or from the New Testament. Different members of the church volunteer to be readers, and often add a few words of their interpretation or sense of the context of the passage before they do the reading. It is a reminder that the scripture is raw material for the imagination: there are an infinite number of meanings to be found in each passage. Our church is grounded in the Bible, but not bound by it. We take the Bible seriously because we don’t always take it literally. We understand that while some of it is factual, much of it is mythical and poetic – but we take myth and poetry very seriously! Sometimes the myths and poetry of scripture are more truthful than cold, hard facts. The unfathomable riches of the Bible keep being revealed to us week after week as we open up our big, heavy pulpit Bible and read it to each other afresh every Sunday. Very occasionally, we will use the scriptures of other religions for the reading.

This is followed by the sermon. Our church is a descendant of the Reformed Protestant worship tradition in which the purpose of the sermon is to interpret the Bible, edifying the congregation with ways that it should be followed in everyday life. While this is certainly part of what happens in our sermons, it isn’t the only thing that happens! Our sermons are completed by the congregation in a conversation after the preacher is finished talking. The fact that the sermon will be completed by the whole church has a big effect on the kinds of sermons that you will hear at College.Heights — bringing them down to earth, focusing them on how life actually is, as opposed to how some theologian might say life should be! The conversation also shapes future sermons, giving the preacher ideas about issues that matter to the congregation. As a result, the sermon is always part of a larger and longer conversation, a reflection of the ongoing spiritual growth and development of the congregation.

Worship continues with another hymn, followed by the offering. If you are a visitor to College Heights for the first time, you are our guest – feel no obligation to contribute in the plate as it passes while we chant. Our members and other “regulars” at College Heights contribute to the church in many ways – with regular pledges of money mailed to the church or put in the plate (ask the minister if you would like to have a pledge card or a copy of the church budget), with occasional or designated gifts of money, and most of all with love and time and effort. This church is ‘congregational’ – the members and friends of our church are completely responsible for its finances and staff and facilities. All financial and policy decisions are made democratically – through a Church Council elected by our membership. Major decisions are made by vote of the whole membership in ‘congregational meetings’. Most of what happens in our church is the result of volunteer efforts by our members – ministering to the sick or lonely, conducting groups and classes, and even doing the maintenance andjanitorial work on the buildings and grounds. You are invited to be part of this community, to give and to receive as one of us…. We belong to the wider United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination, and make a financial pledge to it from our budget. Some of this money is used to do ministry and service worldwide.


Suggestion: A Meditation During the Offering

The gifts we make to the church are important, but even more important are the ways we live our lives. We vote -with our money every day. Some of it goes to items and enterprises that help to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and some of it goes to things and to corporations that are working against the Kingdom. As the plate circulates among the congregation, meditate on this: how can I spend my time and effort and money this week toward the end of building the community of love, dignity, beauty, equality, democracy, and realization of human potential? As a resident of the most powerful and rich nation on earth, what can I do—as a voter and as a consumer — to reduce global warming and pollution, increase the sustainable development of poor nations, and advance the causes of justice and peace in the world? My involvement in the church is just the tip of the iceberg. The effects my gifts have on the church are just a microcosm of the effects my way of life ana my financial and time commitments have on the •world around me. The offering is a time to contemplate prayerfully the choices I want to make that affect those around me.

 

Gathering in Our Circle

As the offering chant continues while the plates are placed on the altar, we gather around the altar table for our closing circle, standing (as we are able) and holding hands. We take time to share briefly what is happening in our lives – good news, hard news, matters on our hearts. We share about ways we can serve our community and influence our government and society for good ends. Then we recite the Lord’s Prayer together, starting with the words “Our Creator” and using the word “debts”. This prayer is the response that Jesus gave to his disciples when they asked him how they should pray- As such, it is not just a prayer in and of itself, but also might be thought of as a ‘template’ for prayer – a way of prayer that focuses on reconciliation, on an awareness of our spiritual and physical needs, on the transcendent but also close, personal nature of our relationship with God, and on the alignment of our own free will with God’s purposes in the universe. Sometimes we sing the Lord’s Prayer, but usually we simply recite it.

Then we sing a closing chant, and are dismissed with a benediction (Latin for “good saying”). Worship in the sanctuary is over, and the worship of God through our actions in the next week has just begun,

We hope you will remain for “coffee hour” – that all-important time when we meet and greet each other, learn more about what is happening in our lives, and offer support and assistance to each other through all of life’s changes. This is a time to ask the minister or any of the members for more information about our church.

You are invited to our Wednesday Watch silent prayer/meditation group on Wednesdays at 6:30-8 am for silence followed by breakfast at the church. Women are also invited to our weekly Women’s Spirituality Group on Monday nights at the church at 7:30 pm. See our newsletter for our monthly Spirit Quest music and speaker events – programs that bring body and soul together, followed by a social time with a view of the glittery lights around the San Francisco Bay.

 

Special Worship Services

Baptisms at College Heights

Baptism in our church is done for infants, children, and-adults: talk to the minister if you are interested in this ritual. Usually it is performed during the closing circle in Sunday morning worship, but other arrangements can be made. The ritual has many meanings and functions. It recalls the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John. The purpose of John’s baptism was repentance – to ritually cleanse people of their sins, .as a sign of intention to repent and be reconciled with God and with other people. It marked the moment when Jesus began his ministry: when he came up out of the water, he had a direct encounter with God in the form of an experience of the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. In ancient Christian tradition, baptism is the ritual by which a person becomes a Christian and joins the universal church. (The Catholic church, for instance, while it claims to have the only valid Eucharist ritual, recognizes the validity of baptisms performed in other Christian churches.) Our church, unlike many others, does not require that a person first be baptized before becoming a member of our congregation. But for many of us, this ritual is an important turning point, the moment when a person comes to belong to the wider church. A person can be baptized more than once: for some, it is an important ritual marking a fresh kind of commitment to the way of the Christ.

For young children, the ritual both welcomes the child into the wider church as well. as our local congregation. It is a blessing and a promise that the child will be raised with the unconditional love that is God. And for many families it is also the time of “christening” – the ritual of giving the child its “Christian” name.

In our church, baptism consists of a meditation on its meanings, the offering of the blessing on the child (or adult), the naming (of the child), and the passing of the baptismal bowl. The bowl was made by our church member and potter, Susie Stone. Each person in the circle touches the water as it passes, and offers a silent or spoken blessing on the person being baptized. Then the minister touches the water with the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, invokes the names and presence of God, and in the case of infants, lifts up and presents the child to the community.

 

Seasons and Celebrations in Worship at College Heights

Day of the Dead (All Saints Day)

Our church worships in a special way on the Sunday closest to Halloween. All Hallow’s Day, or All Saints Day, or Day of the Dead, is November 1, the day after Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve), according to the traditional church calendar – but we celebrate.it on the nearest Sunday. The Catholic church honored 364 saints, one for each day on the calendar – except for All Saints Day, which honored all the other saints not on the calendar. We use this day to honor all our “saints” – friends, relatives, or others we admire who have died. We usually decorate the altar and sanctuary in a manner reminiscent of the way Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico – with pictures and mementos of our dear departed ones, offerings of food and drink and flowers for the dead, and “calacas” – playful images of skeletons — on the altar table. It is a time to mock death and to celebrate life – thanking God for the gift of the lives of these people who mean so much to us.


Advent and Christmas

Advent is the four-week period culminating with Christmas and Christmas Sunday. Our church begins this time with a potluck and “Hanging of the Greens” party on the Friday evening before the first Sunday of Advent, when we decorate the church for the season. Each Sunday in Advent, we light one of the four Advent candles in the hanging wreath -symbolizing Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy, the spiritual gifts of Christmas. The scriptures for these four Sundays illuminate or tell parts of the Christmas story, and the sermons usually focus on these themes. The last Sunday before Christmas Day (or the Sunday of Christmas, if it falls on that day) is Christmas Sunday – our choir performs special music, and the Christmas story is read from scripture. On Christmas Eve, we gather for a special worship at 10 pm, singing carols, listening to the “lessons” of the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospels, and lighting candles.


Lent and Easter

The season of Lent (from the “lengthening” of the days in late winter and early spring) marks the forty days leading up to Easter. The forty days symbolizes the length of time that Jesus spent in the desert, meditating and praying, before beginning his ministry. This period also recalls the forty years that the people of Israel wandered in the desert before coming to their Promised Land. It begins with Ash Wednesday. We celebrate this ritual at our 6:30 am Wednesday Watch silent meditation group, to which all are welcome. We keep silence for half an hour, then ashes are put on the forehead with the sign of the cross, reminding us that we come from and return to ashes and dust, and calling us to humility and repentance as we begin the meditative, reflective time before Easter.

Our church usually offers special Bible or other study groups during Lent, as a way of deepening in faith and focusing on the meanings of the Easter season. We also have a display on the walls of the church, inviting us to meditate in a non-traditional way on the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross – the biblical and legendary points along Jesus’ way to his crucifixion. A Stations of the Cross pilgrimage through the streets of San Mateo has been created by our minister – photos and texts of the pilgrimage route are on the web at www.openchristianity.com.

Palm Sunday, marking the entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion, marks the beginning of Passion Week: the sanctuary is decorated with palms, reminding us of the festive way that people greeted Jesus by putting branches in front of the ass he rode into the city. Maundy Thursday is celebrated at CHC at 7 pm with a service of Eucharist and the washing of feet, as Jesus did for his disciples. It is followed by a potluck meal, reminding us of Jesus’ last supper with his followers.

Easter Sunday worship at 10 am is a celebration of resurrection- that found in the gospel stories, as well as that found in our lives. Our choir performs, with other special music offered, and communion is served.

 

College Heights Church

1150 W. Hillsdale Blvd

San Mateo CA 94403

www.collegeheights.us

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