Places

Going to New York

Did you know that there are at least 1,079 houses of worship in Manhattan? That is, of course, as of the latest edition of “From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship,” by David W. Dunlap. This book and I will become best friends over the next week or so as I visit and explore sacred spaces in New York. Of course I won’t be able to visit even a fraction of the places listed, it would take a solid year if I could visit three sites a day! My intention is to visit as many as possible, however, particularly those for traditions and religions of which there is very little representation in my part of the country.

I'm packing a few other things, too. Don't worry.

I’m packing a few other things, too. Don’t worry.

Visiting churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship is a wonderful way to get a sense of what the faith means to the people who practice it. And it is precisely the people I’m most interested in. One of the highlights of my trip is sure to be a Ramadan Iftar Dinner organized by the Interfaith Center of New York, the Peace Islands Institue and the Union Theological Seminary of New York. I’ve been in touch with the ICNY and I’m excited to visit and learn more about the work they do.

Faith, religion and spirituality are probably not the first things that come to mind when you think of New York City. But I knew from the beginning that to get a good sense of what faith narratives across a pluralistic landscape look like, visiting some of the largest and most diverse cities in the country would be necessary. So, NYC was an obvious choice and the blurb on the back of my new guide and friend confirms this:

“Throughout much of its history, New York has been regarded as a kind of modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, a place where sin and wickedness and danger are everywhere in abundance. But there is another side to the story as well, a tale of faith and devotion, of great preachers and respected theologians, and of grand and impressive religious edifices…” -Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New York Historical Society and editor in chief of The Encyclopedia of New York City.

Needless to say, I will be taking copious notes and lots of pictures. And, if you want to follow along, you can do so right here on the blog and by following me on Instagram: @storiesofdevotion. I will be posting several photos and updates throughout my visit. Here’s to new stories, new faces and new sacred places!

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PLACES: Church of the Resurrection Downtown

 

Church of the Resurrection Downtown

Church of the Resurrection Downtown

The last time I was in this building it was for a California Guitar Trio concert, a few years back. That was when this place was called Crosstown Station and although it has since become the home of the Church of the Resurrection Downtown, it maintains a lot of its concert hall atmosphere. As I made my way into the building, I recognized the repurposed drum light fixtures from before. The lights were dim, there was background music playing and people were mingling and shuffling in. I went up to the front, where I was to meet my friend Julie, who had so kindly invited me after I posted about how much I enjoyed reading Pastor Adam Hamilton’s latest book. This church, it turns out, is the downtown campus of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, which is lead by Pastor Hamilton.

“Service begins in 11:32,” read the notice at the top of the screen as I walked down the aisle. I’ve been to a lot of churches in my time, but never one where there was a countdown to service. It was kind of exciting, I must admit. There were announcements projected on rotation, mission trips, social events, church programs and a reminder to mute phones. My friend arrived a few minutes later, somewhere around “Service begins in 5:27.” We sat down and within a couple of minutes a group of musicians started taking their place on stage. As soon as the countdown reached 0:00, the band kicked off the service.

Look at this awesome drum light fixture. The church left a lot of the decor and features from the previous tenant.

Look at this awesome drum light fixture. The church left a lot of the decor and features from the previous tenant.

This is a church with a decidedly urban bent. The music, the lighting, the ambiance and the screen’s background images of Kansas City skylines all emphasize the Downtownness of this church. The music was good, and even though I was unfamiliar with the songs, it was easy to sing along with the words projected on the screen. Soon enough the music came to a stop and Pastor Scott Chrostek took the stage to welcome churchgoers and give a few announcements. As he spoke, the screen behind him projected his name and his Twitter handle, @scottchrostek. I’d never seen this before, but of course my most recent experience of Church has been the technology-free liturgy of High Church Episcopalian mass. This integration of online and offline Church community was not as off-putting as I may have imagined; it actually seemed quite seamless.

There was more music, songs with very relatable and affirming words, “I’ve been set free from the chains and rules I have made…” And then came the time for the sermon, which on this particular Sunday was delivered by Pastor Todd Maberry (@toddmaberry, as per the projection behind him). As he addressed the congregation, Pastor Maberry remarked on how it never ceases to amaze him that people come back to church, week after week. I looked around and I couldn’t find an empty chair in the room. “Why do people go to church?” He asked. “Could it be because we are looking for answers?” He pondered. We’re trying to answer questions about God – who is God, what is the purpose of my life? And so, he concluded, “Church is a place where we engage questions.”

"Service begins in..."

“Service begins in…”

The sermon was based on the Bible story found in Genesis 12:1-3, where God speaks to Abram and commands him to leave his country and his people for the land he will be shown. The sermon included the story in which Abram had his wife Sarai pass as his sister, so he could be spared death and find favor with Pharaoh. I remembered this story, having just read the Bible a week before, and I wondered how the preacher would handle the fact that Sarai then became part of Pharaoh’s harem. It was a difficult passage and Pastor Maberry made no bones about it, “There are lots of crazy stories in the Bible…sometimes these stories appear to mimic the Jerry Springer Show!” There was laughter and then he went on to talk about how following after God means leaving behind the familiar and how it is that we tend to treat the worst those whom we should love the most. I was moved by the sermon and I appreciated the pastor’s honest take on a difficult passage of Scripture.

I really got the sense that this Church embraced all who walked through their doors. Communion at Resurrection Downtown is available to all. And while all were invited to partake (they even have gluten-free wafers for those who need them), there was no obligation to do so. I always appreciate being invited to a place of worship; it’s a good feeling to know you know someone there. And yet, I’m fairly certain I would’ve been quite comfortable to just walk in uninvited. Everyone I saw seemed to be happy to be there and happy to welcome newcomers. As high-energy music brought the service to a close, I was reminded of the previous life of this building and I thought to myself that if the Crosstown Station had to go, Resurrection Downtown actually seems like a pretty good way to resurrect that space.

The Band

The Band

Check it out for yourself!

Resurrection Downtown‘s weekly worship services are Saturdays at 5:10 pm and Sundays at 9:00 am, 10:45 am and 5:00 pm at 1522 McGee. Services are family friendly and dress is casual. All are welcome.

PLACES: The Labyrinth

A generous invitation.

A generous invitation.

Today, as I was driving back home from an interview a particular church sign caught my attention. It wasn’t a clever play on words and it wasn’t a Bible verse either. It simply said, “Come walk our labyrinth.” I was interested and briefly considered coming back another day, but then I thought, “Why not do it now?” So I decided to turn around and accept the invitation.

During my time in the Episcopal Church I learned a little bit about contemplative prayer and I remember learning a thing or two about the labyrinth. But I had never actually walked one. As I pulled into the parking lot of Indian Heights United Methodist Church, I realized I had no clue how to actually walk a labyrinth. I pulled out my iPhone and did a Google search for “walking the labyrinth.” I skimmed through the first few pages…labyrinths have been around for over 4000 years…contemplative prayer…set your intention…meditative walking…and so on. And then I wondered if this church had instructions on their website… Ta-da! Just what I needed, a detailed yet brief explanation of their labyrinth and instructions on how to use it. I read everything on the labyrinth page and I read the PDF guide, “How to Walk the Labyrinth.” I was ready to try it for myself.

Follow the sign.

Follow the sign.

The labyrinth is beautiful. It is behind the church, across from the parking lot. As you approach it, you notice the care with which it has been landscaped. Per the instructions, I sat on the bench outside the labyrinth to prepare for my walk. I turned off my phone, sat quietly and stilled my mind. After a couple of minutes I began my walk, slowly pacing my steps, one intentionally following the next. Right step, “be still…” Left step, “and know.” The instructions suggest using a prayer or a verse as a mantra to keep yourself centered, this has always been one of my favorites, “be still and know.”

Prepare before entering.

Prepare before entering.

Walking intentionally is not easy. It feels unnatural at first. When I walk, I’m usually trying to get to my destination as quickly as possible. On the labyrinth, the practice is to do quite the opposite. Walking the labyrinth was a centering experience, physically and spiritually. As I made my way to the center, because of the way the path is arranged, there were times when I was closer to the middle and then closer to the outside. And isn’t that the way life goes? When I walked near the outside, the center seemed so distant, and yet I was closer to the perfume of the flowers along the perimeter. The sun was warm and gentle on my back, there was a light breeze every now and then, and I could hear the birds chirping and singing around me. I reached the center and felt engulfed with gratitude for the gift of a moment, for the respite of one breath. After a few minutes in the center, I made my way back out, at the same even pace with which I walked in. Thirty minutes after I had read that sign, “Come walk our labyrinth,” I was back in my car, on my way. But I was not the same. And all I did was accept a generous invitation.

This labyrinth is a custom designed, seven-circuit pattern, based on the classic Cretan Labyrinth.

This labyrinth is a custom designed, seven-circuit pattern, based on the classic Cretan Labyrinth.

YOU TOO CAN WALK THE LABYRINTH!
Indian Heights United Methodist Church
10211 Nall Ave
Overland Park, KS 66207
The labyrinth is open to the public 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
I invite you to read this and this before you visit.

PLACES: Rime Buddhist Center

RimeCenter

The entrance to the Rime Center

This past Sunday morning I attended the service at the Rime Buddhist Center (Rime is pronounced ree-may). I should say, however, that this was not my first visit. In fact, the Rime Center has been my spiritual home for nearly three years. Over the next few months I will visit a great number of houses of worship and prayer, sacred spaces and places from a wide array of religious traditions. It seemed fitting that my journey should begin from home.

Nestled in the shade of the elevated section of I-35, in the western edge of the Crossroads Arts District, the Rime Center finds its home in a hundred-year-old church. On any given Sunday morning, you will find people of all ages walking up the steep stairs for the 10:30 service. The Rime Center offers a full schedule of classes, noontime meditation, and other practices throughout the week; but Sunday mornings draw the biggest attendance.

Upon walking through the main doors, an altar with dozens of votive candles, incense and a photograph of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama welcomes attendees. The Rime Center is a non-sectarian Buddhist community in the Tibetan tradition, of which the Dalai Lama is the highest-ranking teacher and spiritual leader. As you make your way down the foyer, you will see shoes neatly shelved and arranged off to the side on the floor. This will be your cue to remove your own shoes and add them to the collection. Don’t worry, you’ll get them back!

As you come into what would’ve been the nave of the church, you will find yourself in the main shrine room. This is a big, open space with rows of cushions tidily arranged on the floor. There are also chairs lined along the sides and the back for those who prefer them for comfort or health reasons. The shrine is at the front. It houses photographs of His Holiness as well as other prominent teachers; there are sacred texts, offerings of water, rice, flowers and incense. The centerpiece is a gilded statue of the Buddha. A few feet below and in front of the Buddha is the teacher’s seat, slightly elevated off the floor.

At the sound of drums and horns, the congregation stands. Lama Chuck Stanford (the center’s spiritual director), followed by two preceptors, walks in from the back of the room toward the shrine. Following prostrations and lighting of incense, he sits and then everyone else sits. The service begins with a few minutes of silent, centering meditation. For the next forty minutes or so, the Sangha (the Buddhist term for community) recite prayers, chant mantras and sit three separate ten-minute periods of meditation. The service concludes with a Dharma talk, and a few closing prayers. At the sound of drums and horns, the preceptors make their exiting procession and the service concludes.

ShrineRoom

A view of the main shrine room.

What you find in the Rime Center is a unique Buddhist experience. The entire order of service is provided in a bulletin, making it easy for seasoned practitioners and newcomers to follow along. Explanations and translations (some of the prayers and mantras are spoken in Tibetan) for every aspect of the service are found in the sidebars, one need not feel lost or confused. Toward the end of the service, announcements for upcoming classes and programs are made. During this time, the center preceptor will welcome visitors and invite them to introduce themselves. Lama Chuck makes a point to say it is his goal for the Rime Center to be the most welcoming spiritual community in Kansas City, and you certainly feel that this is a genuine sentiment. Congregants mingle and linger following the service, some visit the bookstore, while others have tea.

If you’ve ever wondered about Buddhism or meditation, the Rime Center is a great place to learn. For those of us raised in a Western religion, experiencing Eastern practices can be a little intimidating at first. But the Rime Center’s service includes enough familiar elements that one shouldn’t feel like a complete stranger in a foreign land (children have Dharma School during the service, and it’s okay if you slip up and call it Sunday School, I often do). The people are warm and friendly. For those with a bit more experience, it is a wonderful place to deepen your practice attending retreats and teachings by many of the visiting teachers.

So, there you have it, my first installment in this PLACES section of the blog. Questions? Feedback? Let me know in the comments section.

 

Planning a visit? Here are few things you might find helpful:

DRESS: Dress is modest but casual. Bear in mind you will most likely sit cross-legged on the floor; you’ll want to dress comfortably as most congregants do. Remember you’ll be leaving your shoes in the foyer.

CHILDCARE: The Rime Center has childcare for infants and toddlers as well as Dharma School for children ages 4 and up.

ADDRESS: 700 West Pennway, Kansas City, Missouri 64108

PARKING: There is ample parking on the street.

TIME: Sunday services begin promptly at 10:30, you will want to arrive at least five to ten minutes early (earlier if bringing children) and find a cushion. Service is usually over a little bit before noon.

WEBSITE: http://www.rimecenter.org/

Shrine

The shrine.