As we think about the next chapter of ministry at AHCC, one of the things we are doing intentionally is inviting people in, paying attention to new voices, and making space for the way the world and people have changed. We want to be welcoming of a diversity of people, as we begin to chart our course forward. With our priorities of Inquiry, Acceptance, and Impact we formulated a vision for our Lenten focus which we look forward to building on in the years to come.
Our theme for this series was “Wilderness Companions: Building Community by Asking the Hard Questions in Good Company.” We invited local community leaders, an interfaith panel, an author and educator, and two clergy with national reputations for Christian leadership to join us.
The series began with a panel of local spiritual leaders: Dr. Joel Lohr, President of Hartford Seminary; Dr. Reza Mansoor, Founding President of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut; and Rabbi Michael Pincus, Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in West Hartford. The evening focused on the changing relationship of spiritual communities to the culture, both opportunities and challenges, and the speakers identified relevance, faith, and the youth as three areas of focus. We were shocked and saddened the next morning to find out that at the same time as our gathering, a gunman had opened fire at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people.
The following Thursday, we welcomed local radio personality and AHCC neighbor, Chion Wolf. Chion emphasized that “storytelling is what we have in common with everyone, everywhere,” the importance of Hartford and its storied and distinguished history, and that Hartford needs us because we, the people of this church, make a difference here. She added, “New York doesn’t need us, Boston doesn’t need us, Hartford needs us.“ She talked about her recent move to Huntington Street, and her deep appreciation to this church and its long commitment to the neighborhood.
Next, we opened our doors to author Dr. Susan Eaton, Professor of Practice in Social Policy and Director of the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy. Susan is the author of the critically acclaimed, The Children In Room E4: American Education on Trial, which was an AHCC all-church read and discussion book when it was published in 2007. The book chronicles a landmark civil rights case and life in a classroom and neighborhood in Hartford.
Well known to many in our community, Dr. Eaton challenged us to find ways to dialogue with people we may have little in common with. We spent time in small group dialogue and then reported back.
On Thursday, April 4, we welcomed Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL. Dr. Moss is part of a new generation of ministers committed to preaching a prophetic message of love and justice, which he believes are inseparable companions that form the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Moss spoke on “Punching Holes in the Darkness,” an image taken from a sermon example he shared of a young boy watching a man light the lanterns along a city street as dusk fell. It looked like the man was “punching holes in the darkness.” Dr Moss’ text was Isaiah 1:15 which says, “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”
He spoke of the challenges of bringing our true and real problems to church, and seeking a way forward. He encouraged AHCC to have a “mothering” relationship with emerging faith communities in Hartford – not seeking to overwhelm or co-opt them, but to support them and let them flourish in their own right.
The final speaker of the series was Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church in Manhattan, NY. He spoke on “Three Lenten Reprimands and Recommended Sacrifices.” We began with a time of reading and reflection on his texts: Gen. 15:1-10, 12-14, 17; Isaiah 50:2b; Matthew 21:18-22; Matthew 25:31-40. He used the range of his considerable preaching and speaking skills to lift up the continuing challenges of today’s people of faith, saying that, ultimately, the world is in tremendous need; he wished for our Lenten sacrifices be commensurate with the need in the world and the power of Jesus’ message. At the age of 83, he told us he is seeking to encourage churches and help the world find its spirituality.