Saturday, I stood in DC and I marched. I traveled up there with a group of my classmates to join in the march planned by a group called Justice for All. The hashtag on twitter is #justice4all if you want to check them out. We got in a bus, rode to DC, joined the thousands gathered, and then we stood there. We stood in a park and were encouraged and overwhelmed by all the people standing around. As I stood in this giant block full of people, my senses were completely overwhelmed. I saw the faces, some excited, some sad, most a combination of the two. I smelled the normal smells that come with giant groups of people gathered in cities: people’s meals, other people’s perfumes and other smells, food that is being sold on the street, etc. My ears were what I remember being the most overwhelmed. I could barely hear the speakers, but I could hear the sounds of the city and the chanting of people throughout the group. We chanted the phrases that have become famous this summer and fall after the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner: “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” and “I can’t breathe.” We also chanted “No Justice, No Peace!” and many other phrases and rallying cries for justice to be in our streets instead of violence.
Then on Sunday, Ginter Park gathered twice in our sanctuary to worship and prepare our hearts for the arrival of Christ in our world. As we gathered in the evening for Lovefeast, my senses were again shocked as they took in the little moments to absorb all going on around me. My nose and mouth took in the smells and tastes of the hot cocoa and Moravian buns. My eyes beheld the sight of the sanctuary completely decorated for Christmas, especially how the Moravian star and the cross were on display one directly in front of the other, a reminder of the age-old story that we are beginning again this Advent. But for a second day in a row, it was my ears that had me the most occupied. I listened to the choir as they practiced before Lovefeast started, I heard the first two anthems from the mosh pit, but my favorite sound was the treat of hearing the elementary school students and the youth finally sing the song they had been practicing since early October with the adult choir. I heard their voices blend with the adult choir and felt all the work that had been put into it coming to fruition.
At the end of both days I found myself deep in reflection and prayer. I prayed for the voices I heard and the people that I joined with each day, some whom I will never meet again and others whom I look forward to sitting with at worship for the rest of my time in Richmond. It is hard for me to explain the connection between two such vastly different experiences- an outdoor march in DC and an Advent service inside a warm, well-decorated sanctuary. But the sights, smells, sounds, and most importantly, the people in both places reminded me of the promises of Advent. I am reminded of hope that comes as people gather together to work for justice and the peace that comes with gathering together to worship. The love that goes into preparation of rally and of song, and the joy that comes as we gather together, as brothers and sisters, to raise our voices, in chant or in song, as we catch glimpses of the peaceful reign of God that Jesus teaches us about and points us towards, just as soon as our waiting has ended and we truly encounter him in Bethlehem, in our lives, and through the image of God that is placed in each of our sisters, brothers, and neighbors.
Beth Olker, one of our pastoral interns, is a final level MDiv student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA and a candidate in the PC(USA) ordination process through the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. She grew up in the upstate of South Carolina and graduated from Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC. Prior to seminary, she served in Tennessee as a PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer and as a church director of children’s ministries. She has been active with numerous committees on campus, and is in her second year leading our youth group.