Saturday, December 21, 2019

Upper Room Inclusive Catholic Community - Christmas Liturgy - Presiders: Mary Brandon and Mary Theresa Streck, ARCWP

photo by Filip Bunkens on Upsplash

Welcome: In the darkness of this solstice evening, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. Our theme tonight is: Christ, Our Light.

Receiving the Stole

Lighting the Fourth Advent Candle

We light this fourth candle and remember that we are called to create, to share and be light in all our ways, and to commit ourselves to the works of peace and justice needed in our world.
Let us kindle the light of love! Amen.
Opening Songs: Christmas Carols


First Reading: Adapted from Isaiah 9: 1-6

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of deep shadows
a light has shone.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
They name him Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.

Psalm Response: adapted from Psalm 96
Sung Response:
May the Christ Light Shine in You.
May the Christ Light shine in Me.
And together we will shine
With God’s love to the world.
(music by Kathy Sherman CSJ)

Spoken: Your light enlivens the world, O Holy One
There is none to compare with you!
All of Creation is clothed with your majesty.
Mirroring your love throughout the cosmos.
Rejoice in the Radiant One, O people of the light,

Sung Response: May the Christ Light Shine in You...

Second Reading: Light and Enlightenment excerpted from the Universal Christ by Richard Rohr

Have you ever noticed that the expression “the light of the world” is used to describe the Christ (John 8: 12), but that Jesus also applies the same phrase to us? “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5: 14)

In the beginning of John’s Gospel we hear: “The true light that enlightens every person was coming into the world” (John 1: 9). In other words, we’re talking not about a one-time Big Bang in nature or a one-time incarnation in Jesus, but an ongoing, progressive movement continuing in the ever-unfolding creation. Incarnation did not just happen two thousand years ago. It has been working throughout the entire arc of time, and will continue.

Christ is the light that allows people to see things in their fullness. The precise and intended effect of such a light is to see Christ everywhere else. In fact, that is my only definition of a true Christian. A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That is a definition that will never fail you, always demand more of you, and give you no reasons to fight, exclude, or reject anyone. Isn’t that ironic? The point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else.

All: Alleluia
Cantor: A holy day has dawned upon us.
For a great light has come upon the earth.
All: Alleluia

Gospel: Adapted from Jn 1: 1-14

In the beginning was the Christ,
Who was with the Holy One,
And is the Holy One.
All things came to be through The Christ,
and what came to be was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Mary Theresa’s Homily Starter: 

In the darkness of this solstice evening, we celebrate the return of the light to the northern hemisphere and more importantly, the birth of Jesus, fully human, a bright light in the firmament of the prophets and mystics and saints.

Child of Mary and Joseph, Jesus grew in wisdom and grace as he recognized and responded to the Living Light, the Divine Light within. For those with ears to hear and open hearts, he was a light in the darkness.

His followers longed for one who would relieve their suffering and bring about a new world order rooted in justice where everyone had a fair share. 

He was for them an incarnation of the Christ, an anointed one whose inner light radiated the Holy One’s unconditional love and radical unity with creation.

And you would think that was enough. But, no, Jesus turned to his followers and reminded them that the Living Light, Light of the Holy One, the Christ Light, resided in them as well. 

Understanding the meaning of the Incarnation of the Christ, Richard Rohr wrote these inspired words: 
“The loving message of the Divine Incarnation is bigger than just one man. It is the ultimate character of all reality, including each one of us in community as the ongoing Body of Christ.” 

For me, there have been significant individuals in my life who were luminous souls walking with me through some dark times. 

And there are luminous souls who are walking with us now. Just this morning I sent you Dr. Shanon Sterringer’s response to the Bishop of Cleveland’s threat to excommunicate her for being an ordained priest. She, like Jesus, and her patron Hildegard, is a light in the dark times in our Church.

So, In the darkness of this solstice evening, let us recognize and celebrate the Light of Christ that will not be overcome by the darkness.

And we celebrate not only the life and teachings of Jesus but also the Living Light in each other and in all those who have illuminated the way to the Holy One – all the prophets, the mystics, the saints, and our dear companions on this amazing earthly journey. 

We are, like Jesus, meant to be fully human expressions of the Christ “who is forever being born in the human soul and history (Rohr).” 

Mary Brandon's Homily Conclusion:

From the very beginning, our lives have been cyclical. At the solstices, the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in our sky, giving us the longest or shortest day of the year. At the equinoxes, day and night are almost equal. Spring equinox, summer solstice, autumn equinox, winter solstice.....the same every year. Living on earth, as we circle the sun, our time is governed by patterns of light and darkness, summer and winter, warmth and cold, and life and death. When are ancestors learned how to farm, they planted and harvested at the equinoxes, but it was the solstices that caught their attention. The extremes. They watched their days shrink from the bright abundance of high summer to the bleak, dark cold of winter, and they invented rituals to make sure the light would come back again: to bring the new day, the new year, the rebirth of life.

The rebirth rituals have become traditions that we still celebrate, whether or not we remember where they came from. Some of them are so old that only their monuments remain. On the morning of the winter solstice at the great earthwork Newgrange, in County Meath, Ireland, the day’s first beam of sunlight shines in through a passage that Neolithic people built there five thousand years ago to catch it. For seventeen minutes, a dark room deep within is filled with the sunshine of the shortest day.

It’s a universal impulse to celebrate the light as a symbol of continuing life. The candles in our liturgy that we light to dispel the darkness belong to the same family as the menorah candles of Hanukkah or the oil lamps of Diwali. Christianity and many other faiths share their intention: they are the lights of hope, reaching for the triumph of good over evil.

Statement of Faith

We believe in the Holy One, a divine mystery
beyond all definition and rational understanding,
the heart of all that has ever existed,
that exists now, or that ever will exist.

We believe in Jesus, messenger of the Divine Word,
bringer of healing, heart of Divine compassion,
bright star in the firmament of the Holy One's
prophets, mystics, and saints.

We believe that We are called to follow Jesus
as a vehicle of divine love,
a source of wisdom and truth,
and an instrument of peace in the world.

We believe in the Spirit of the Holy One,
the life that is our innermost life,
the breath moving in our being,
the depth living in each of us.

We believe that the Divine kin-dom is here and now,
stretched out all around us for those
with eyes to see it, hearts to receive it,
and hands to make it happen.


Presider 1: As we prepare for this sacred meal we are aware that just as Jesus is anointed, so is each of us. As bearers of LIGHT and HOPE, we bring to this table our blessings, cares and concerns. Please feel free to voice your intentions beginning with the words, “I bring to the table…..” 
Presider 1: We pray for these and all unspoken intentions. Amen. 

Presider 2: With open hearts and hands let us pray our Eucharistic prayer as one voice:
(written by Jay Murnane) 

All: Holy One, you are continually creating the universe, continually giving birth to all of us. We sense the need to do the same, to set ourselves free from a sense of emptiness and barren hopelessness.

We celebrate you as the Source of light and life and love, and we celebrate your presence and all-ways care. We give thanks, and joined with your vision of harmony and peace, we sing:

Blessed be our God! 
Blessed be our God! 
Joy of our hearts, source of all life and love! 
God of Heaven and Earth! 
God of Heaven and Earth! 
Dwelling within, calling us all by name! 
Alleluia, sing! 
Alleluia, sing! 

Gift of love and peace! 
Gift of love and peace!
Jesus Christ, Jesus our hope and light! 
A flame of faith in our hearts!
A flame of faith in our hearts!
Proclaiming the day, shining throughout the night! 
Alleluia, sing! 
Alleluia, sing!
(Alleluia Sing by David Haas) 

Your wisdom invites us to draw on our tradition, as old as the stars, shining through Sarah and Abraham, shining through your prophets in every age and every culture. We join that enlightening, enlivening tradition with what we are as we risk fidelity to a dream.

Filled with your spirit, we, like Jesus, can give birth in our day to your living word for the sake of hope enfleshed in creativity and confrontation, healing and reconciliation, justice, universal and unconditional love. 

Please extend your hands in blessing.

All: We are grateful for your Spirit at our Eucharistic Table and for this bread and wine which reminds us of our call to be the body of Christ in the world. 

All: On the night before he faced his own death, Jesus sat at the Seder supper with his companions and friends. He reminded them of all that he taught them, and to fix that memory clearly with them, he bent down and washed their feet.

Presider 1 lifts plate as the community prays the following:

When he returned to his place at the table, he lifted the bread, spoke the blessing, broke the bread and offered it to them saying: 
Take and eat, this is my very self.

Presider 2 lifts the cup as community prays the following:

Then he took the cup of the covenant, spoke the grace, and offered it to them saying:
Take and drink.
Whenever you remember me like this,
I am among you.

Let us share this bread and cup to proclaim and live the gospel of justice and peace.

Holy One, we dare again to dream the ancient dreams and open ourselves to marvelous visions. There are mountains of arrogance to lower, valleys of fear and separation to fill in, to create a community and communion that stretches throughout our consciousness and around our world.

In this way, working to renew the face of the earth, we are opened up to your Spirit, the Spirit of light and life and love born in Jesus.

For it is through his life and teaching, all honor and glory is yours, Holy One, forever and ever.

All: Amen.

Presider 2: Let us pray as Jesus taught us:

Holy one who is within, around and among us.
We celebrate your many names.
Your wisdom come; your will be done,
unfolding from the depths within us.
Each day you give us all that we need.
You remind us of our limits and we let go.
You support us in our power, and we act with courage.
For you are the dwelling place within us,
the empowerment around us,
and the celebration among us,
now and forever, Amen.
Adapted by Miriam Therese Winter

Presider 1: Please join in our prayer for the breaking of the bread:

All: Holy One, You call us to live the Gospel of peace and justice. We will live justly. You call us to be Your presence in the world. We will love tenderly. You call us to speak truth to power. We will walk with integrity in your presence.

(Presiders hold up bread and wine) 

Presiders: "This is the bread of life and the cup of blessing. Through it we are nourished and we nourish each other. 

All: What we have heard with our ears, we will live with our lives; as we share communion, we will become communion, both Love’s nourishment and Love’s challenge. 

Presider 1: Our Eucharistic celebration is all-inclusive and nothing can separate us from God’s love. All are welcome to receive at this table. Please pass the bread and the cup with the words: “You are the Light of Christ!”

Communion Song: Christ Be Our light by Bernadette Farrell

Communion Meditation: Mary Did You Know – Sung by Dennis McDonald

Closing Prayer: Presider 2: Holy One, Source of light and dark, we are grateful for the cycle of seasons and the constancy of the sun, moon and stars. During this passage of darkness and light, we are reminded of the beauty and wonder of our creation. May we bask in the gathering light and revel in its luminous grace. Strengthen our capacity to recognize your presence in both the dark of night and the light of day. Amen


Presider 1: Please extend your hands and pray our blessing together.

May we continue to be the face of God to each other. May we call each other to extravagant generosity! May we, like Jesus, be a shining light and a blessing in our time!


Closing Song: Let Your Light Shine in Us by Kathy Sherman 

Women Priests Are Not Enemies of the Church by Dr. Shanon Sterringer ARCWP

December 20, 2019

Photo taken during ordination ceremony in Linz, Austria (2019).  Prostrating during an ordination is a sign of one's complete surrender to God's will. The Litany of Saints is sung as part of the rite.  

Rev. Dr. Shanon Sterringer December 20, 2019
Fairport Harbor, Ohio 44077
Dear Bishop Perez,
I received your letter dated 17 December 2019 (feast of the deaconess Olympias) apprising me of the accusations you have leveled against me regarding several canonical violations in relation to my ordination. I responded to a previous letter you sent to St. Anthony of Padua parish on 22 July 2019 (feast of the apostle Mary Magdalene), and put forth several concerns/questions at that time, none of which you have responded to in this letter or otherwise. It is disheartening that it requires a canonical penalty for you to reach out.  Please find my response to your letter below.   

Dear Dr. Sterringer, 
As Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, I have the most serious obligation to “defend the unity of the universal Church” and am therefore “bound to foster the discipline which is common to the whole Church, and so press for the observance of all ecclesiastical laws (canon 392, §1 CIC).
Response: I am deeply saddened to read this opening line because it affirms what many in the Church are feeling; that the role of our bishops has been reduced to enforcing unjust laws and protecting an institution not always concerned with the real needs of the people. Jesus came to bring new life and to bring it in abundance. He came to renew viriditas, which is a term the Church reformer, and now Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen, used to refer to the greening power that renews what has dried up and withered. Jesus repeatedly broke religious law when it oppressed or violated the people.  
Women are oppressed in this Church. We are not treated with the same dignity and respect with which Jesus treated women. Centuries of patriarchal sexism have distorted women’s roles in the Church creating ecclesiastical laws that are unjust and dry.  
From my perspective, your role as the Bishop of Cleveland should not be to enforce “discipline which is common to the whole Church, and so press for the observance of all ecclesiastical laws,” as stated. Rather, I believe your primary role is to LOVE – sincerely love - every single member of this Diocese equally (women, men, gay, straight, divorced, married, sinner, saint) for we are all created in the imago Dei. Authentic leadership creates a space for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to shape the Church into a companion model. 
Jesus was not a dictator or a ruler. He walked humbly with the people. He washed feet, he commanded his disciples, women and men, to do the same. I refuse to believe, based on the history preserved, that Jesus would condone using a book of 1,752 canons as a weapon against any of us. 
The priests in Jesus’ day felt it was their obligation to enforce the religious law as well and we know from the Gospels how Jesus responded to their fixation on the letter of the law. 

It has thus been reported to me that you have participated freely and with knowledge in an illicit and invalid ceremony (canon 1024) within the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio on 10 July 2019 which purported to ordain you to the sacred order of deacon. It has also been reported to me that on 3 August 2019 you freely and with knowledge participated in an illicit and invalid ceremony (canon 1024) in Linz, Austria which purported to ordain you to the sacred order of presbyter.  If the above is true, then I am required to inform you (canon 1717, §1) that by your participation in these acts you have been excommunicated latae sententiae (canon 1378, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, Norme de graioribus delictis, Article 5), the remission of which is reserved to the Apostolic See. It is my prayer for you and my concern for the good of the Church that you repent of your actions and reconcile with the Catholic Church. 
Response: In fact, it was I who reported it to you through your officers in the Parish Life Office, Seminary, and the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Office as far back as one year ago that I was seeking ordination. I reported to you directly that I was ordained to the sacred order of deacon on 10 July 2019 in the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio and to the sacred order of presbyter on 3 August 2019 (feast of St. Lydia) in Linz, Austria. 
Both ordaining bishops, Rev. Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Rev. Mary Eileen Collingwood, possess the faculties to validly ordain as they were ordained by a diocesan bishop with faculties in the line of Apostolic Succession. Therefore my ordinations are valid (under the same circumstances that grant validity to right-wing Catholic break-away groups that emerged following the Second Vatican Council), though I do acknowledge the Church considers them illicit. 
You have informed me that I have been excommunicated latae sententiae (canon 1378 Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, Norme de gravioribus delictis). I accept that my relationship to the institution has been severed and this has truly been the most difficult and heart-wrenching decision I have ever had to make. But I do not accept that my relationship with God has been negatively affected. 
God called me to be a priest. I am a cradle-Catholic and I deeply love my Catholic faith. 
Speaking on behalf of women priests everywhere, our call comes through the Church. The seed of my vocation was planted within me before I was born. It was watered at my baptism and nourished as I participated in the sacraments as a child. It came to fruition as I dedicated myself fully to nine years of theological studies at your seminary and ministerial formation through your Diocese.  I understand that the institution does not recognize my vocation, but this does not change its reality. The Holy Spirit is not confined by human rules and social/cultural conditions.
You cited article 5 in Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (This is the document addressing the serious sin of sexual abuse of children by clergy. It is interesting that the Magisterium felt it was appropriate to include women priests in this document as if these issues are somehow related.) The document reads: “The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”  
Considering for a moment all of the crimes committed by the Church throughout history and particularly today, acts that are not only immoral but in many cases criminal and violent, it is hard for me to believe that God would agree that the “more grave delict” is the ordination of a woman, particularly given the fact Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and commissioned her as the Apostolorum Apostola and sent her to preach the first Easter homily to “his brothers”.    
You have asked me to repent and return to the Church. What exactly are you asking me to return to? A Church that does not recognize my call? A Church that treats women as subordinate based on a distorted theology of complementarity? A Church that protects pedophile priests and bishops while judging the faithful for venial offenses? Shall I return to a Church which has hurt me time and time again, with no remorse or willingness to embrace its own need for repentance? Realistically, what do you expect from me, or anyone like me, who has a divine call and has tried to respond properly within the institution only to be forced elsewhere as a result of injustice, blatant disrespect, sexism, clericalism, or a power structure unyielding to change and growth? What would I be coming back to? Put yourself in my shoes for one moment. Would you return under the same circumstances? 

I ask that you please respond to this letter by 3 January 2020. If there is no response from you by that time, I will communicate to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith your refusal to reconcile and ask the Congregation for direction regarding the proper course of action to follow.
Response: In 2018, when I put in writing to the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Office, the Seminary, and the Secretariat for Parish Life and Development my intention to seek ordination, I acknowledged at that time that I understood the consequences of removing myself from the Diocese. I sent you a note dated 23 July 2019 reporting that I had been ordained and that I understood I was no longer affiliated with the Diocese and was no longer under your hierarchal jurisdiction. 
I do not understand how it is appropriate for you to expect me to answer for something that no longer applies to me? If I were still working at the parish this would make sense, but I have been gone from it since 28 September 2018 and have intentionally avoided being on parish or diocesan property so as to not confuse people. I am in a very different place on my faith journey than I once was. While there may have been an opportunity previously to engage in a conversation of reconciliation, the opportunity no longer exists. Too much has unfolded in the past fifteen months that is irreversible. Given the fact that I have already lost my position in the parish, lost my salary and health benefits, lost many long-time connections and relationships, have huge student loans to repay that were incurred by my theological studies, and have been informed I was excommunicated latae sententiae, what other “course of action” are you threatening me with at this point in time? 

With prayers that the Holy Spirit move you to seek salvation in Christ and his Church and invoking the guidance and intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God.
Response: I understand your position and your responsibility to pray for those of us you feel have separated ourselves from Christ and the Church. However, the Catholic Church does not control the only spigot on the font of salvation. I deeply love Christ and while I have accepted that I no longer fit into the institution, “his Church” is an integral part of who I am and always will be. It may be difficult to understand how someone can continue to identify with their Catholic faith while being outside of the institutional structure, but I have encountered many people in my years as a pastoral minister who have formally left the Church, but in their hearts still identify as Catholic. Through their stories and my own experiences, I have come to understand that faith is not defined by rules, buildings, or even doctrines. It is an encounter with the Living Christ. Over the past 47 years I have integrated my faith into my very being and so I will continue to consider myself a Catholic even if the Church feels obliged to impose on me a canonical penalty.
Women priests are not enemies of the Church. In many cases we have risked everything to follow our call to renew viriditas where we experience dryness. I am reminded of the Gospel passage in Mark, “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us” (38-40). 
My ordination is not an attack on Christ, his Church, or the Diocese. It is an emulation of Mary’s YES.  When we have the courage to say yes, like Mary, we become pregnant with the Spirit. Our history reminds us that embracing our prophetic call always puts us in opposition with the status quo and brings temporal consequences.
In this week’s Gospel reading, Joseph is ready to dismiss Mary after learning she was pregnant, outside of the institution of marriage, and not with his child. She was in violation of the law and it would have been well within Joseph’s legal right to not only banish her from the clan but to have her stoned for what the religious community believed was a sin. He allowed his heart to be touched by the Spirit, he trusted in goodness and light, and subsequently his attitude was transformed. He chose love over the law. From a female perspective, Joseph’s response to Mary’s pregnancy was as miraculous as the pregnancy itself. It is a beautiful reminder that there is always the opportunity to choose love.
I cannot “repent” because I do not believe I have sinned in following my call to ordination. We are in the midst of miracles here in this sacred space out in Fairport Harbor. St. Hildegard of Bingen works in and through our mission here. It is truly a remarkable space. It is sad that you are not interested in hearing my story or the story of this community because there is no doubt in the minds and hearts of anyone involved here of God’s presence, and it is drawing people. What is unfolding here is bigger than me or even this community. This is a space of light, love, and peace. I believe a hundred years from now a future generation will look back at what unfolded here with respect and awe. Unfortunately, they will be forced to again tell the story of how the religious institution feared, persecuted, and tried to silence the movement of the Spirit, a story that has been repeated many times in the history of our Church.
Bishop Perez, we have an opportunity to do things differently this time around, to not allow history to repeat itself. To be open to the Holy Spirit in this moment. To be open and creative in the way we respond to the Spirit and make a real difference in the Diocese of Cleveland. You have a choice to banish me or treat me with dignity, as a theologian and minister, and take time to listen to my story. 
I do understand, based on my actions, that I am no longer welcome to participate within a parish or diocesan context and while it is painful to be banished from the parish community I so deeply love, I respect this consequence and have adhered to it for over a year. It is my prayer to be able to reconcile with you someday, but not by recanting my ordination. 
I cannot abort my vocation any more than Mary could have “changed her mind” the moment she realized what the potential consequences might be for having said yes, especially if Joseph had chosen to exercise his legal rights. As a woman and a mother, I am positive Mary doubted her decision at times throughout her pregnancy, but in those moments of weakness she trusted her sacred experience. The only unforgivable sin is a sin against the Spirit (Mark 3:29). For me to “repent” my call would be a grave sin against the Holy Spirit.  
I am not the first woman to be ordained in this way and I certainly will not be the last.  The movement of reform is growing quickly and spreading widely because the people are hungry for change. The Holy Spirit is calling us forth to serve in this manner, at a time when the Church is in desperate need of renewal, and no human power can stop the work of the Spirit. The institution has lost credibility with many people and is in need of reform. Hagia Sophia continues to move, breath, and animate growth and change where we are open to her. Women priests are here, have always been here, and always will be here. Women have unique gifts and talents that can help renew our broken Church, if the institution would open itself up to it.  Until this becomes a reality, we will continue to minister from the margins in love and prayer.
Please know of my prayers for you, the Diocese, and all who are struggling to understand their faith in the midst of changing times. 
Prayers for a Blessed Christmas Season,
Rev. Dr. Shanon Sterringer

“God Loves Things by Becoming Them” (A new creation myth based on Richard Rohr’s “Universal Christ”) Denise Hackert-Stoner ARCWP

In the void, I am the not-void.
In the nothing I am the not-nothing.

I AM.                                                                                             

I continue to become.
I fill myself with my own light, my own love,
Until both spill out into the nothing,
Into the void.
And my light fills the nothing

Until the nothing becomes my light.   
And my love fills the void
Until the void becomes my love.

My ever-growing light and love become the stars, the galaxies.

The stars grow old, exploding into all of my elements,
The elements born of my light,
The elements that carry my love
In every molecule,
The elements that play together to make
Water, air, fish, sea grass, bumble bees, cattle, herons,

Orchids, sparrows, humans, eagles, daisies.
The elements that are my not-nothing,
My not-void, my light, my love.
The elements that are you, 
In the moment
That is now.