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Author: Merianna Harrelson

I am the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC and the Director of Consulting at Harrelson.Co. I am always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book.

Clinging to Safety

As our baby turned three months, she has developed a habit while nursing of clinging to something, anything that she could hold onto: the collar of a shirt, the string of a hoodie, a lock of hair, an available finger. Her grip is strong and fierce as she holds on. Our three-year-old in preparing to go to bed tucks his stuffed dog under his arm clinging tightly to the safety of his lovey as he drifts off to sleep.

As adults, the way we cling to safety is a bit less visible. Instead of clinging to an object, we cling to patterns and routines, even furniture set up. I have found this especially true in places of worship. To be certain, coming into a community of faith is asking and inviting the Divine to reveal our most vulnerable places and our deepest wounds, so it follows that in those revelations, so too would our instinct to cling to something safe and comfortable arise.

Business meetings that discuss carpet color or paint color are much like our three month old’s grip tight and fierce not because we truly want to keep the carpet from 50 years ago the same or that we can’t see the paint that’s chipping and needs to be replaced, but rather because we need to be assured that we are safe. We need to be assured that even if the paint and carpet of the church changes, this will still be a place of sanctuary for us.

As we hear about places of worship being invaded with death and violence, this is of the utmost importance. Although we may concentrate on the physical safety of the building and those who have gathered, may we not forget the spiritual and emotional need for reassurance that rest in our hearts and souls as we hear the news. May we offer something deep, hope-filled, and so authentic that those searching may cling to. When we offer this soul-filling type of worship and teaching, we can be sure that those gathered won’t need to cling to paint or carpet colors.

Perhaps the hardest words that Jesus speaks to his disciples in the gospel of John are:

Do not cling to me because I have yet to ascend to the Father.

As much as we want to cling to the safety of what we already know and how things have always been, we have to let go of the Risen Christ so that the Spirit of God can come in all its Mystery. In order to allow the Spirit of God to work, we have to let go of the very things we hold so tightly. We have to let the Spirit of God move and change and transform. Only then we will truly see the kingdom of God here on earth.

Surprise Springs Up

This year in the midst of our irises springing up out of the ground, we had quite a surprise. I am not much of a gardener, so the fact that these irises that I transplanted four years ago bloom every year is still astounding to me. To have another bloom was remarkable. At first, I wondered if maybe I had forgotten this burst of red in the midst of the flowy purple and white from previous years, but then I was sure this was the first time I had seen this flower bloom.

That means that mixed into the iris bulbs, there was this surprise waiting all these years.

It makes me thinks of the many,  many conversations I have with people who are doing right and good work to try to offer hope and healing in the midst of the dissidence and discontent that surrounds us. There questions and laments of “Why can’t I see anything change?” remind me that the work that we see is often only after years of planting, rooting, and weeding out.

In fact, we may never see the bright, red blooms of the work that we have toiled and sweated over. We might never smell the surprise fragrant of new life, but someone will. Someone will see that surprise spring up and know that someone else has worked diligently and faithfully to produce something beautiful.

Thanks be to God that we cannot see the whole story.

Pastor’s Kids


I never thought about being a pastor and a parent as I was growing up because the concept of being a pastor was not something that women did and I certainly never saw a woman with young kids who was a pastor. When I saw these images, it made me stop in my tracks because here my kids sit next to me, supporting and affirming me by being a part of our new congregation, Garden of Grace UCC. Here they sit, as the service is beginning talking to me, asking me questions, wanting to participate and drinking milk from sippy cups.

This an absolute miracle.

When I answered a call to pastor and to pursue seminary nine years ago, I never imagined these pictures would be a reality. I never imagined meeting a partner that would go with me on this journey and affirm and support me as a pastor and as a parent.

As we sit here in these images in the shadow of the cross, I can’t help but remember that these pictures wouldn’t have been a reality without a lot of dying to self and dying to the things I thought I knew about who was called and who wasn’t called.

This is resurrection and evidence of the Risen Christ. Alleluia!

 

Sitting in the Darkness

We’ve walked in darkness for the last 40 day.

We’ve longed and hoped for light.

 

But here we sit –

in the darkness,

in the hopelessness,

in the disappointment.

 

I didn’t understand this part for so long.

Perhaps I don’t even really understand it now.

I was taught Good Friday was good because it was about me.

my sins being forgiven.

my eternal life.

This is NOT about me or my salvation.

 

This is the kingdom of God here on earth.

A kingdom where all have food.

A kingdom where all are welcomed in.

A kingdom where all have shelter and sanctuary.

 

A kingdom so radically different

than the one here on earth

that the one

who was preaching and sharing the good news

would be put to death

in hopes that this idea wouldn’t spread

In hopes that power would remain in the hands of the powerful.

In hopes that systems would not change.

 

This is good news –

there is so much more.

Even in our dustiness,

we can be a part of something so much bigger.

Thanks be to God.

“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”

In the girls’ bathhouse at my grandparents’ pool, there was a sign that hung on the wall:

Sugar n’ Spice

and everything nice

That’s what little girls

are made of.

I remember thinking that was a cute saying, especially because it rhymed and painted a picture of a smiling, bow-wearing little girl. Actually, that may have been the image that was painted at the bottom of the sign. Although the saying brings back fond memories, it’s not one that is hanging in our house with three girls.

I don’t want my girls to see that hanging on the wall and think they have to be nice or sweet. This Tuesday one of the most important organizations in the Columbia area, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, received threats to the staff and organization because of the work they are doing to combat, educate, and provide healing for sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.  Three out of four victims know their abuser before the abuse occurs, so when we teach our girls to be nice and sweet to people they know and fear strangers, we are not recognizing the percentage of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual abuse that is committed by family members, family friends, and other close acquaintances. When we teach our girls to be nice and sweet, are we inevitably telling them that they can’t talk to us about things that aren’t sweet and nice if they happen to them?

The threats to an organization that does such important work prove that there are people who want girls and indeed adults to be sweet and nice rather than fight for safety for our children and against injustices in our society. We live in a world where sexual abuse, rape, and sexual violence occurs every 92 seconds. And I’m going to keep talking about the things that are not nice and sweet until we know that our world is a better place for our children.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands had to cancel one of their major fundraisers because of these threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could show our support financially?

On Serving Side by Side

Last week, I had the privielge of serving in worship and on a panel discussion with a group of ecunemnical clergy in celebration of Reconciling in Christ designation that Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary received two years ago. I have participated in similar conversations throughout my six years of ministry, but this is the first time I was representing a denomination who as a whole was welcoming and affirming.

The United Church of Christ ordained its first woman over 150 years ago and its first openly gay clergy in 1972 over thirty years ago. Again and again the United Church of Christ has been the first denomination to express extravagant welcome to all people. As I was sitting on the panel, I felt no angst in representing that I believe in wholly and completely affirming members of the LGTBQIA+ community. I felt the burden of my colleagues for whom this is a touchy issue and a difficult subject.

I also felt freedom because in my short tenure in the UCC, I can honestly say this isn’t an issue. It is who we are and because we aren’t spending our time and energy debating and discussing and defending, we can be about the work of offering hope and healing to all people.

I’m incredibly greatful for those who have gone before me who have established a foundation of extravagant welcome and a church of extravangant welcome who called me as their pastor.

From Behind the Table

From behind the table, I see hands being washed.

From behind the table, I see the veil lifted –

the body and the blood revealed.

 

From behind the table, I see the bread broken –

crumbs falling down.

From behind the table, I see the cup lifted –

the smell of fruit wafting in the air.

 

From behind the table, I see

the mystery,

the wonder,

of sacrifice

all over

again.

After the Rain

After the rain,

the early morning earth

sighs in relief.

 

Relief –

of having endured

the storm

the thirst

the lack

the absence

the waiting

the wondering,

 

Wondering –

how long it will be

until the next

refreshment

nourishment

taste.

 

The taste

of the cool, clear

rain.

Strolling

We went for a walk today.

It’s one of those days where Spring is creeping in and there’s just something about the weather that beckons you outside to see the bumblebees flying and flirting with each other and to notice the pollen accumulating everywhere. I found myself breathing deeply into the promise of a new season. When I looked back, I caught sight of the little hospital tag on our seven week’s old’s infant carrier.

I thought about last week when we went into the children’s hospital for a routine ultrasound following her breech position in utero and the good news that came back that all was normal and then I started thinking about all the kids and parents and families I saw in the children’s hospital. Because we needed an ultrasound, we were in the radiology department.

Although it wasn’t busy when we were there I thought about the way the newness of the waiting room took me off guard. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know where we were going after the waiting room. I didn’t know anything about the procedure other than the name of the procedure. I didn’t know who would be performing the procedure. I didn’t know what we were looking for or what we weren’t looking for. I thought about how many families spend so much time in this place where we were that there is nothing about the waiting room or procedures or places behind the double doors that are new. I thought about how many people are hurting and how amazing it is that after just seven weeks we were walking together outside in the Spring air with two dogs with their tongues hanging out. I thought about how much pain and hurt goes unspoken and unnoticed in my own city; how many stories go untold. I thought about how bright it was even though it was a cold day when we walked out of the children’s hospital.

Sometimes we get taken to places that are new and scary and uncertain and sometimes those new places open our eyes to a new set of needs just minutes away from our own families.