Faith Matters: Reimagining the Church for the future

  • Rev. Christopher Carlisle in front of the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, which looks out onto Court Square, the site of the new Cathedral in the Light service on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Director, Cathedral in the Light
Published: 9/2/2016 9:10:07 PM

(Editor: The following is a submission to The Recorder's weekly column titled “Faith Matters.” Each Saturday, a different faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. For information on becoming part of this series, email or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

A Lutheran pastor, a Congregational minister and an Episcopal priest go into a café and sit down at a table. The Lutheran pastor begins, “My congregation seems to be missing a whole generation of young people.” The Congregational minister replies, “I’m one of those young people — and we need to reimagine the Church for the future.” The Episcopal priest responds, “But the Church is based on an ancient tradition. We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” So together they came up with “Cathedral in the Night.”

Such were the beginnings of Cathedral in the Night six years ago on the evening streets of Northampton. With the hope of reimagining a church sanctuary, Pastors Stephanie Smith, Eric Fistler and I decided that taking the Bible literally might mean literally doing what Jesus did. Welcoming all sorts and conditions of people — rich and poor, young and old, homed and homeless — Jesus’s adventure in God drew him out onto the margins of the world.

Leaving his traditional comfort zone, Jesus thrived on diversity. Sharing full-blown meals, worship came to mean nourishing both body and soul. Imparting the unqualified love of God, Jesus excluded no one — welcoming all as beloved companions in pursuit of their Creator.

On behalf of leadership cohorts Ali Brauner and Lance Humphrey — as well as a host of church partners who will be bringing liturgy, hot, healthy meals, and already a sense of joy to our emerging community — I would like to welcome any and all to come together as the new Franklin County “Cathedral in the Light” in Court Square Park at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11.

In Northampton, we have come to realize that the most important thing anyone can bring to a community like this is not a sermon or a spoken prayer or a meal — it is your self.

So we will begin our Eucharistic celebration at 2 o’clock by being reminded that our altar/folding table “is not your table or mine. It is God’s table.” And for it to be God’s table, no one can be excluded. Preceding the meal, the brief liturgy (whose structure looks a lot like those of more conventional churches) embraces the whole community: Christians; those from other traditions; seekers; agnostics; atheists; and friends who would simply like a meal.

One of the incredulous questions we often get is: “Why don’t you do this inside?” The answer continues to be that outside maximizes access to all. Outside, we are guests of the public square. Outside, we’re in the midst of daily life. And outside, we are poignantly made aware that what we most have is each other.

The September sun shines and inspires a reflection; a fire truck passes and moves a prayer; Court Square Park becomes a dining room; and worship is new life, together. Still, if the wisdom of Jesus first drew us outside — in the sweltering heat and the bitter cold 12 New England months a year — the one important wisdom we probably missed is that he chose a more temperate climate.

We hope you will come on Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. to check out Cathedral in the Light. We hope you will come to experience this new and ancient tradition. We hope you will come because without you, this “Cathedral” will be less than it could have been.

About Cathedral in the Light

Cathedral in the Light is an outdoor Christian worshipping community in the radical tradition of Jesus. Comprised of all God’s people — homed and homeless, young and old, traditional church-goers and alternative seekers — Cathedral in the Light celebrates the diversity of creation every Sunday at 2 p.m., starting Sept. 11, in Court Square Park across from Greenfield Coffee. Following the brief ecumenical service, the celebration continues with a hot and hearty meal and lively conversation. Feel welcome at the service, the meal, or both.


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