Our Work for Housing Justice

You may be aware that over the past year, Reservoir Church has played a significant role in a public organizing campaign for great housing justice in Massachusetts. Perhaps you’ve noticed that this is a very expensive area to rent or to buy a home. Sadly for me as a pastor, I’ve had conversations over the years with many of you who have wondered if the cost of housing is too high for you to want to stay in the area long-term. 

Throughout the network we are in, Greater Boston Interfaith, there have been thousands of similar conversations, asking what we can do to make housing more affordable and accessible for more of us. We’ve learned about the dramatic underfunding of public housing throughout this state, often resulting in unsafe or downright deplorable living conditions. We’ve listened to the struggles of formerly incarcerated individuals to find housing or even get state IDs as they seek to rebuild a life for themselves. And we’ve confronted restrictive, discriminatory zoning laws in our communities that were set up decades ago to keep communities whiter or wealthier. 

One of our pastors, Rev. Lydia Shiu, has been an instrumental leader in this work, organizing tirelessly behind the scenes and speaking in front of the state house and at other large events. Press coverage from a 1,700 person gathering Lydia co-chaired early this month can be found in The Boston Globe and the Dorchester Reporter. Over 80 of you turned out for that gathering, making us the second-best represented congregation in all of Greater Boston. 

Our Faith into Action core team has also strived tirelessly to engage our church and our public representatives in this work. They’ve helped organize and run large public meetings with state elected officials, both at Reservoir and in other locations.

Today, I got a turn to get out and do something in this campaign as well. I presented a letter that I co-wrote and that was signed by 155 Massachusetts clergy, asking our elected officials to take action in this legislative cycle. In addition to sharing this letter with you, I thought you might enjoy reading another sample of how we can talk about our faith values in the interfaith or secular settings most of us spend most of our time living in. 

Here’s a short excerpt from my testimony today, before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees. 

This letter written by me and other leaders in GBIO was signed, in less than a week, by 155 Massachusetts clergy – a multi-faith, multi-race, urban and suburban collective of religious leaders.

Why clergy? We are not experts on housing policy or affordability. So why hear from so many clergy, with unanimous moral clarity, on the action we need you take on housing? 

Well, it’s because our clergy are teachers, caregivers, organizers, and leaders in faith communities that touch the lives of millions of Massachusetts residents. Millions of us. Over half of adults in Massachusetts engage with our state’s religious communities, somewhere between a few times a year and multiple times per week.

And one thing we are doing in our congregations is exploring a different way of being human. We’re exploring ways of being a person that aren’t defined first by our wealth, our community of residence, our home ownership status, our career field or success – or all the other things that are so important to our lives and identities in our economy.

Take my church for instance. Every week, a few hundred people interact there. We have tenured university professors, prominent physicians, C-suite leaders in major businesses and nonprofits in the area who are socializing, and worshiping side by side, eating and serving the community alongside residents of public housing, uber drivers, foster moms, disabled residents, and so on. As if those differences do not matter. How many places do we have like this?

Our religious communities are places where residents of our state find community and meaning and purpose where they are defined not by their resumes or net worth, but by their faith that they are children of God with an important place in the beloved community that we are called to create together, community where we belong, where we have just opportunities to flourish, and where we have basic goods like secure, safe, healthy housing, not because we’re lucky but because we’re human. 

This experience of mattering, of belonging, and of the opportunity to make good lives for ourselves not because of our class or privilege, but because we’re part of the human family in this state – these ideals speak to the best aspirations of our country and our Commonwealth.  

It’s true, friends, that we have a lot of work to do to make Greater Boston’s communities more accessible and affordable, for us and for the diverse communities we – and I believe God – would love to see flourish here.

And it’s true that church is an incredible space to be together where we aren’t defined by all the stuff our economy and our status-conscious world ranks us on, up or down. We are children of God – no one higher, no one lower. And we are in this world, and in these lives, together. We need each other. And we all matter. We all matter to ourselves. We all matter to one another. And we all matter deeply to the living God as well. 
Oh, and I’ve been asked to share with you that this blog was ranked as one of Boston’s 20 best Christian blogs and websites. I can’t necessarily endorse all the others, but there we are, friends.

How to Build an Inclusive Church

The Christian faith has some pretty outrageous visions for what’s possible in the world. Peaceful nap times for predators and prey, weapons of war melted down into farming tools, sumptuous feasts with more than enough for all people, and trees with leaves that can heal our nations are all part of its poetic vocabulary of a one-day restored creation. Again and again, these dreamy visions hope to include all people, all nations, speakers of all tongues. It’s a vision of abundance and inclusion that gave rise to what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Beloved Community.

On these hopes, the Christian church has more often than not disappointed. 

In terms of race, the Christian church in America has been a mostly segregated space. In terms of gender, it’s mostly been a space where women have been limited or even silent in their leadership. And in terms of gender identity and orientation, the church has mostly been an unsafe and even homophobic space for LGBTQ peoples. 

Some of us, though, still hold out for the dream of church as a place of beloved community. We think that faith spaces go best for us all when they are truly shared spaces of belonging for all people.

In this spirit, we offer seven steps toward making an inclusive church a space belonging for all people.

1. Read The Bible

Maybe this seems like an odd place to start. The Bible is an ancient and diverse set of ancient texts. You wouldn’t think it would have much to say about how communities hold diversity of race, language, politics, or sexual identity and orientation. When it comes to the details, sometimes that’s true. 

But to shape a beautifully equitable, diverse, and inclusive faith-based community, it helps to have a deep set of spiritual and moral reasons for doing so. It helps to have a story that guides you.

For Christians, parts of that story emerge from our sacred text. 

I think of the early church, as it figured out how to share the message and life story of a crucified Jewish rabbi with people throughout the Roman Empire. Awkward encounters occurred across differences. The recipients of the message sometimes had as much to teach the messengers as the other way around. Changes were made. Everyone experienced God and truth and one another anew. 

I remember Jesus himself, as he moved beyond the ideas and people of his rural, Jewish childhood and offered healing, liberating ideas and touch and relationship to all he encountered. 

I think of the whole arc of the Hebrew scriptures and prophecy that shaped Jesus, as it moves from the tale of a single founding family to the vision of all people through the earth feasting and worshiping together. 

All these stories ground me, guide me, and give me hope. 

2. Change What’s Happening at the Center Stage

I’m a lifelong resident of Greater Boston. I once visited a church in my city that was full of transplants from other cities. But there was one guy there playing a small role in the service who wasn’t just from Boston, he was like the Hollywood caricature of all things Boston – Red Sox cap, Irish features, thick accent. He seemed like the token local guy, added to the side of the show, in hopes that other locals would feel welcome. 

Diversity window dressing doesn’t work, though. America’s colleges and universities are famous for pictures of happy, diverse gatherings of beautiful students on their glossy brochures and websites. But if you spend time in those schools, you may not always find that reality matches the advertisements. 

Churches too. It’s hard to find a church that says all people are welcome there. Church people have hopes for what the church can be. They may want all people to feel welcome. They may want the community to look diverse. but they may not be willing to change anything about their worship or culture or beliefs or practices to make this so. 

If you want an inclusive church, you have to want to be different. An inclusive church that doesn’t just host other people until they become like you. It changes to reflect the gifts of presence of its participants.
An inclusive church doesn’t just center one culture’s story and sample from others around the edges. It welcomes everyone at center stage.

3. Representation

An inclusive church pays attention to who is leading, making sure that as much of the community as possible is represented at the top. 

When we think about who is on staff at the church, who’s preaching, who’s on the Board, who is leading our groups, we want to make sure that as much of the community as possible sees part of their story and identity in our leadership. For instance, we’re a multiracial church in a predominantly white region of the country, and we have a white senior pastor. So we make sure that our Board is half or majority people of color.

It’s not just fair and effective, it’s wise and even biblical.

4. Don’t Center Politics, but Don’t Run From It Either.

Some churches are partisan hot spots that push politics all the time. Others try to run away from it, afraid of taking any stands that might offend parts of their community. 

An inclusive church doesn’t need to center politics, but when they matter to the well-being of members of their community, they can’t avoid them.

I remember Christmas of 2014. Our church at the time was probably around 15% Black. In the wake of the murder of Trayon Martin and the unrest in Ferguson, a movement to uplift the sacred dignity and worth of Black lives had begun. It mattered to our community, and it mattered to me. 

So I started the Christmas season preaching in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. I wore a shirt. Hardly a radical act in my mind. But a number of our African-American members took selfies with me that day. It was an important gesture of solidarity they saw in their white pastor. And sadly, not most but a few of our white members were upset. They thought I was bringing politics into the pulpit. In a sense, I was. Politics originally refers to the public – the public issues and concerns of the people. 

If you want an inclusive church, you need to care about and speak up for the concerns of the people, including people who are especially underrepresented in your community.

5. Stop Shaming and Harming LGBTQ People and Those That Love Them

There’s been a movement of LGBTQ rights in this country for fifty years. Same sex marriage has been legal throughout the country for years, and most Americans are glad this is so. The church has had a hard time keeping up, though. In fact, both American and global Christianity has been one of the biggest sources of violence and hate toward LGBTQ peoples. An inclusive church can do much better. 

Historically, most Christians have not held welcoming or affirming views on diversity of sexual identity and orientation. But Christians have managed to change their minds and update their views on many other things over the centuries. 

There’s now a wide body of literature and thinking that can help churches be faithful to their tradition and sacred texts while also doing right by people too long stigmatized and rejected by the church. The path to dignified, joyful, full inclusion of queer Christians and spiritual seekers is available. For me – a cisgender, straight follower of Jesus – this path has enriched my faith and made me a better friend, family member, neighbor, and pastor. For our siblings in the LGBTQ community, their participation and sometimes their very lives depends on it. 

6. Be Ready to Lose People.

Those people offended by my solidarity with Black Lives Matter – some of them left the church. When people are threatened or angry or disapproving, that’s what they do sometimes. During the period of time when our church became fully inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ people, almost half of the church left. Some left over that specific issue. Others left because it was a period of so much transition in our church in general. Things were a little chaotic. We could have managed the change better of course. 

But churches that become more inclusive usually start losing some people before they gain others. That’s been our story. It’s been the story of just about every other church I know of that got more committed to racial justice or LGBTQ inclusion than it had been before. 

Loss is sad. There are costs to pay. But what you get on the other side in this case is very much worth it. 

7. Celebrate, Enjoy and Keep LEARNING!

I love our inclusive church! I love the depth of experiences and perspectives and relationships it offers to our community. I love the stories of safety and belonging people share. I love that Reservoir is known in our region as the kind of church where an interracial family, a gay couple, a trans child, or a woman preacher can feel at home. 

Building an inclusive church results in communities people enjoy being part of, with great stories to share with the world at large. 

But they’re never static. People come and go, and the vision and hope which guides the journey needs to be refreshed. People make mistakes – hurtful things are said, our commitments to everyone’s full seat at the table get broken. And we need to make apologies, make things right, and keep learning. 

Inclusive communities are messy sometimes. The best things in life aren’t simple and neat. But they’re worth what it takes to find and keep. 

Visit Reservoir Church Today!

At Reservoir Church, we put Jesus at the center of everything we do, from our Sunday services to our various programs. We welcome everyone without exception; whatever your race, gender, sexual orientation or background. You will always have a place here.

If you’ve been looking for an inclusive and welcoming church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we would love to have you join us at a Sunday service. Click here to connect with us by subscribing to our email list or by exploring our service opportunities. 

Which Creation Story Do You Need Today?

Every Saturday, I sit in a circle with some friends from my church and together we study the Bible. We pay attention to what encourages and inspires us, as well as the many things that frustrate and befuddle us. We read and talk about these texts because they’re one place we go for wisdom and direction and we follow the way of Jesus. 

This past weekend we read the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, paying particular attention to the relationship of humans to the rest of creation. 

Reading the first chapter of Genesis, more than one of us found some of it to be problematic. The author writes that humans are created in God’s image and quotes God talking to Godself, saying that humans should “take charge” of all other life on earth and should “master it.” We talked about our species’ habits of dominion: the enormous harm we’ve done to so much of the earth and so many of its species. In recent centuries, we have looked less like the loving, humble caretakers the writers of this account imagined and more like self-destructive tyrants, consuming and exploiting without regard to the welfare of the earth or our descendants.

Turning to the second creation passage in Genesis 2, we wondered if this is the creation story more of us need today. In Genesis 1, humans are made out of nothing, summoned the very speech of God. But in Genesis 2, humans are made from the ground. In the Bible’s first creation story, humans rule over the earth. In the second, we are, like everything else, made of the earth. In the first creation story, humans are the gods over creation. In the second, we are the farmers – keepers of seed, cultivators of ground, entrusted with enjoying and sustaining life. 

Some people need more of the first creation story in their life. A recent asylee I know in my city has been repeatedly abused by this country’s criminal justice system. Few people on earth know his name. Fewer have shown any commitment to his rights and his dignity. This friend deserves to know that he bears God’s image, that his birthright is love, respect, and authority over a bit of good work, a patch of beautiful earth.

But most of us, children of capitalists and colonialists that we are, might also need a reminder that we are made of the same stuff as the rest of the earth. We are connected to and depend upon the earth for the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the very substance of our bodies. It is not just us that are sacred, but all the earth, which is crying out for us to treat it with gratitude and care.

Gods upon the earth or earthy creatures ourselves? Which creation story calls to you today?

For more discussion of these texts and many others, go to this year’s Lenten guide

Kids Church at Reservoir Church

Written by: Dan Archibold and Aubrie Hills

Pre-K Kids Church 

Our Godly Play program for babies through kindergarteners is designed to welcome children into a beautiful and inviting space that is just for them. There is nothing on the shelves or in the space that is “off-limits” to them. When they enter their classroom community, they are greeted by the volunteers who know them by name and ask them curiously if they are “ready” to enter. This readiness is an invitation to check in with their little bodies and minds and get prepared to be with friends, listen to and wonder with a story, and work and play together.  

One of the central aspects of the storytelling circle includes laying out tangible, tactile play materials on the ground, right at the eye level of the children. As they surround the storyteller, they hear language that naturally invites them to find the parts of the story that they are curious about or take favor to. They are never instructed, but offered lots of wondering questions, followed by an opportunity to play with the materials themselves. Sometimes, this looks like moving little figures through the desert bag as the people of God wander through this dangerous place, pretending together. 

The rest of the room is set up with story shelves, open art materials shelves, and some other invitations to work with puzzles or blocks. The children can access any of the materials they would like and respond to the story of the day, or create their own work. 

Another area of the room invites them to rest, listen to calming nature sounds or music, reflect on scripture or art, and quiet their bodies with sensory tools. 

Elementary Kids Church

Most Sundays at Reservoir Church you can find the elementary-aged kids downstairs in the Multi-Purpose Room taking part in what we call Kids Church. I’m glad that we call it that instead of Sunday School. While I do love teaching—my training is in Elementary Education, not ministry—it’s not what’s most important when it comes to helping kids make a connection with God and with the church community. A while ago we came up with a tagline for our Kids Church program that I really love: “Worship. Wonder. Play. Find yourself in God’s story.” And that’s what we do!


We worship together every Sunday that we meet. In our context, that means that the first half of our large group time includes some songs or movements to give kids space to connect with God, and some time where we pray together. For anyone who wants to, that is! I don’t think there’s ever been a Sunday where all the kids were standing up, never mind singing. But enough always sing to make a beautiful noise together! And some weeks when I invite kids to pray or lift something up for us to pray for together, there aren’t any takers. Other weeks, though, we get to hear from enough of the kids that I start to worry we won’t ever be able to get to our story of the day!


The central focus of our program is stories, and almost every Sunday, our morning is based around a Bible story. So I was surprised several years ago when a parent let me know that he was interested in finding a more “Bible-based” kids program for his family. On reflection, though, I think I know what he meant. Because we don’t do a lot of “teaching” about the Bible. No memorizing verses or the order of the books, and no moral lessons that we expect all the kids to absorb. Instead, we present—every week—a story from the Bible as it is, and invite the kids to wonder what it means to them at that moment. And we share our thoughts and questions in small groups. Sometimes kids don’t want to share, and that’s okay; but when I’m leading the discussion, before I let them off the hook, I sometimes remind them that I love hearing their thoughts because we’re all working to discover new, living meaning in the story for that particular moment. 

The kids who do want to share say some pretty interesting stuff! I feel like every week they make connections between stories that I wouldn’t have made, bring a more literal take to the story, or a more abstract one. Sometimes they take the discussion in a completely different direction that lets us reflect on what we’re even doing in this church space together.

Earlier this year we were talking about the man and woman in the Garden of Eden who ate that fruit they weren’t supposed to eat, and a fifth-grader asked, “Isn’t this story just an excuse to say bad things about women?” Yes, historically it definitely has been that! But we can talk about what else the story might mean, and about what we can do today to react to those historical bad takes. We’ve grappled with awesome questions from “Was Jesus being mean in that story?” to “Why aren’t there dinosaurs in the Bible’s account of Creation?” And through it all, we each have the chance to understand a little more about what God is like.


I love sharing stories and worship, but for lots of the kids, the best part of Kids Church comes in the last part of the morning. We call it “work time”, and it’s a chance for the kids to think about and process what we’ve talked about over the previous half hour. Sometimes that might involve illustrating a moment from the story, but to be honest, most of the time the kids want to play board games together or play with building toys. Sometimes they want to make designs with fuse beads (that’s probably the most popular activity). There are moments when I wonder if that’s ok. Shouldn’t they be doing something more… churchy? Are we wasting our valuable instructional time together?!

Of course not. Community is a huge part of the church experience, and it’s one of the three strands we focus on in Kids Church, along with Bible stories and faith practices. Besides “the Gift of Community”, playing together also gives the kids a chance to access “the Joy of Living”—something you can tell from the volume in the room during work time!

Find Yourself In God’s Story

Kids have plenty of people telling them what to do and how to think. Sometimes that’s helpful and appropriate. But in a church context, it’s not always the best way for young people to develop a life-long feeling of connection with God. In Kids Church at Reservoir, we aim to immerse kids in stories of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and give them an opportunity to see how they want to integrate those stories into their own life. They then know how to integrate themselves into what God is doing in the world (plus have some fun along the way)!

Visit Reservoir Church Today!

Our Kids Church meets almost every Sunday during the 9:30 a.m. service. We welcome everyone without exception; whatever your race, gender, sexual orientation, or background. You will always have a place here. Please feel free to drop in for a visit or connect with us!

What Is the Difference Between Contemporary vs. Traditional Churches?

Christianity today takes many different forms, from the ritualistic liturgical styles of Catholicism and Orthodoxy to the more freeform worship found in contemporary churches. With so much diversity, you have options when deciding what kind of church might be right for you.

Many churches blend tradition and contemporary elements, and at Reservoir Church you’d find this to be true. Many churches on each end of the spectrum usually share a few common characteristics.

What Is a Contemporary Church?

Essentially, a contemporary church’s mission is to create a space of worship that is open and accessible to everyone.

Most contemporary churches are:

  • Independent: Not part of a larger organizational structure
  • Nondenominational: Not affiliated with a larger network of churches within a specific faith tradition 

Instead, they focus on the core message of Jesus and Scripture. That’s why contemporary churches often describe their theology as “Jesus-centered” or “Christ-centered.” 

What Is a Traditional Church?

Tradition is defined as passing on beliefs, practices and customs to new generations. A traditional church usually has roots in an established faith tradition that has been passed down for centuries — this is why most traditional Protestant churches belong to specific denominations like Lutheranism or Episcopalianism.

Often, these churches place a high value on structures and rituals like baptism, Holy Communion and the traditional liturgical calendar. While many contemporary churches also practice these rituals and believe them to be important, they place less emphasis on them.

Traditional vs. Contemporary Church

Both traditional and modern churches have the aim of preparing their congregations to hear and respond to God, though the ways in which they accomplish this goal differ. Here are some of the most notable differences between traditional and contemporary churches.


For many, the music is one of the biggest differences between traditional and contemporary churches. A service in a traditional church usually involves singing along to hymns from the 18th to the early 20th centuries with the accompaniment of a choir, an organ or both. 

More contemporary churches will use newer worship music that resembles the cultural styles of the congregation (i.e., drums, guitars). It’s not uncommon to have a praise and worship band playing throughout the service, and there are often screens near the front of the church that display the lyrics so the congregation can follow along. 

On that note, you’ll almost always find people in traditional churches using physical Bibles or hymnals to follow along with the service. Many contemporary churches use digital versions to save paper, such as displaying the relevant passages from screens or providing the congregation with QR codes.


Appearance is one of the most easily noticeable differences between modern versus traditional churches. While you may find many contemporary churches holding services in traditional-looking buildings, and many traditional churches look pretty modern, there are some distinct stylistic differences between the two.

Newly constructed contemporary church buildings tend to have simple interiors with minimal decorations. While some are in buildings with experimental architectural styles, many hold services wherever they can find space — some examples include school gyms, theaters and hotels. Logistically, there is little possibility for permanence, which is why a minimalistic style is so practical.

Traditional churches tend to use older architectural styles. Inside, they’ll often have more elaborate decorations, like enormous stained glass windows and murals depicting the life of Jesus. Some contemporary churches are in traditional-looking buildings with modern additions, like TV screens in front of the congregation.

However, architecture tends to vary widely between churches, so it’s important to remember that every church is more than just the building. 


You may find members of a more traditional church tend to come to services dressed in their “Sunday best.” Ministers wear specific vestments, or robes, to show reverence to God and to reflect the sacredness of the service.

At a contemporary church, the atmosphere is usually a little more laid-back. People are welcome to come as they are, whether they’re in their best dress or their work uniform after a long shift. This reflects God’s undying love for all of us as our most authentic selves.


Another difference between contemporary and traditional churches is the approach they take to their community. 

Contemporary churches are often described as more “community-driven,” focusing sermons and programming around the immediate needs of their local communities or centered in issues of social justice or action-driven faith. You might hear sermons on how the Gospel relates to the political and social issues surrounding us today, and you might find that many different people have the chance to lead. 

Traditional churches are also very community-driven, just in a different way. They tend to emphasize the universal truths of our faith — God’s everlasting love, Jesus’s teachings and the importance of staying faithful even in our chaotic world. You’ll usually find a variety of ministries available to church members as well as community service opportunities.

Elements at the Core of Both Contemporary and Traditional Churches

Whether you attend a more traditional church or a contemporary one, there are some core elements one can engage with. Here are some ways you can participate more fully in the life of the church:

  • Community: Don’t go it alone. Do it with others in the community.  
  • Pray: Whether you belong to a traditional church or a more modern one, prayer is at the heart of every Christian’s life. During the service, take time to meditate on the teachings you hear and pray for guidance.
  • Scripture: Understanding the meaning of Scripture can be challenging, which is why we make room for unpacking essential concepts like religious history and translation differences. Taking some time to read in preparation can help you understand the passage’s messages on a deeper level and connect to our loving God one-on-one.
  • Spiritual practice: Church services are meant to teach you actionable spiritual practices you can take with you into every area of your life — in your work place, in the greater community and with the people you love.
  • Volunteer: Participating in the life of the church is a great way to practice the Christian tradition of loving your neighbor. Most churches offer opportunities for community service.

Our Mission at Reservoir Church

At Reservoir Church, we believe the teaching, practice and person of Jesus are vital for guiding us to the divine. We put Jesus at the center of everything we do, from our Sunday services to our children’s programming. 

We are inclusive, which means we welcome everyone without exception. Whatever your race, gender, sexual orientation or background, you have a place here.

We understand that everyone is in a different place on their faith journey, and we strive to create an emotionally, physically and spiritually safe space for people to meet God where they are. An honest exploration of faith is more important to us than conforming to any specific dogma or doctrine because we believe that the Holy Spirit will guide all to the truth.

Come Join Us in Worship!

If you’ve been looking for a welcoming church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we humbly invite you to join us at a Sunday service. We offer in-person and online services, and everyone is always welcome — no exceptions. Click here to connect with us by subscribing to our email list or by exploring our service opportunities.

Need a little more information before you come by? Our Frequently Asked Questions page can help you get a better feel for who we are and what we stand for. You can also watch a recording of a past sermon to get an idea of what to expect on Sunday morning. 

Blessed are the Peacemakers – A Pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a study tour hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. Every year or two, JCRC Boston takes some Christian clergy to Israel and Palestine to get to know the complexities of that land’s past, present, and future. Part of the tour is a visit to historical sites of the nation of Israel as well as sites of Biblical significance. 

For me, this trip proved to be a pilgrimage, an opportunity to journey out of my regular routines, deepen my prayer life, and seek the Spirit of Jesus anew. I thought about Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing, and deliverance, as I swam in the sea of Galilee, dipped my feet in the Jordan River, and visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Jerusalem. When I saw the Temple Mount, I looked at the spot where the Court of Gentiles was located in the first century and could vividly picture Jesus, having ascended up the hill and through the gate, flipping the tables of commerce there, longing to restore a place of prayer for all nations. I then prayed at the Wailing Wall, part of the first century temple wall still standing, and knelt there, bringing my deepest longings to God through tears in this sacred space.  

I am aware, though, that this place holds different meanings for different people. For me, it was a place of Christian pilgrimage, as it has been for many others these past two millennia. For others, Jerusalem is a beautiful, ancient, somewhat exotic tourist destination. For some, it is a fascinating historical site where one can imagine the Biblical stories of the First Temple (Old Testament) and Second Temple (New Testament) periods come to life. For many Muslims, they see the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, and the cite where Islam believes the prophet Adam was created and the prophet Muhammad began his great night journey of revelation. Many Jews see the absence of the Jewish temple and their inability to pray at the historic geographic center of their faith.

Our tour was not only spiritual pilgrimage but an invitation to consider different perspectives and the depth and intensity of the conflict in Israel and Palestine. We met with Palestinians and Israelis who in different ways are working to secure the safety and well-being of their own people or who are also working to secure just and lasting peace for all peoples of that land. 

Our group moved in and out of East and West Jerusalem, areas of that city that center either Jewish or Palestinian life and culture, and where different people live in rigid segregation. We went behind the wall to the West Bank, once part of Jordan, now occupied militarily by Israel but primarily home to Palestinians, who live there without nation, citizenship, or freedom. We traveled to the fence along the Gaza Strip and to the Golan Heights, by the borders of Lebanon and Syria. 

In these travels, we met with people and saw evidence of culture I can not fully comprehend or respect – ultra-orthodox religious conservatives in retreat from the complexities and diversity of the modern world, right wing Jewish settlers seeking to claim the West Bank for their people and country, and Palestinian militants who seek to claim to whole of the land for themselves and expel or marginalize the Jewish people. It was important for us to grapple with these experiences and worldviews, even if I can not understand and certainly can not endorse them.

We also met, though, with peacemakers whose bold actions for love and justice inspire. 

We met with two members of the Parents’ Circle, Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have been killed in the conflict between their people. They have joined in grief groups with one another, have started intercultural summer camps for the siblings of their slain children, and educate others around the power of relationship across enmity and the possibilities for peace when we honor the dignity and humanity of our enemies.

We met with Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Planning, Equality, and Shared Society with the Givat Haviva Center. Like 20% of his fellow Israeli citizens, Mohammed is a Palestinian Arab living in his ancestral hometown. He is a national leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion work that elevates the rights and standing of the Arab citizens of Israel.

We walked in Bethlehem with Rami Nazzal, an internationally published Palestinian journalist, to discuss the longings for freedom for the Palestinian people and the possibilities of securing freedom and justice without hating or seeking to eliminate the Jewish people. We also walked with Jewish activists for Palestinian land rights in East Jerusalem and ate with young Jewish environmental justice and food access entrepreneurs, to consider what solidarity and peacemaking from a position of privilege looks like. 

As an outsider to the particulars of this space, I could only weep and rejoice with these singularly courageous and bold peacemakers, marveling at their courage and ingenuity and hope, as they seek to bring into being the ancient prophet vision of a world where “the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat,” where “they won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain,” but instead where “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as water covers the sea.” (excerpts from Isaiah 11)

As an American disciple of Jesus, I also was haunted and inspired by Jesus’ words, “Happy are people who make peace, for they will be called God’s children.” As I shared this past Sunday, I believe the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 not only introduce Jesus’ greatest teaching on ethics and the good life, but are a pathway toward following Christ and to the survival and flourishing of the human race. 

I wonder where the peacemakers are among us, those of us who doggedly look for the dignity and humanity of our enemies, both personal and political. I ask Jesus for love and perseverance in making peace with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and family members where conflicts have strained or distanced us. And I hope for a movement among Jesus’ followers to not minimize the conflicts of our nation at war with itself but to imaginatively and charitably and humbly learn to share space and pursue just peace amidst our differences.

GBH’s All Things Considered

Recently I had the opportunity to be part of GBH’s All Things Considered and discussed Reservoir’s diversity, our commitment to inclusion, and as a Jesus-centered community, embracing the vision of Beloved Community for all. Here’s the link and the transcript is below.

Offering a ‘liberative tradition’ at a Cambridge church in the face of anti-LGBTQ discrimination

The Reservoir Church in Cambridge is typically described as Jesus centered, initially associated with the vineyard association of churches. But Reservoir Church separated from the association in 2015 after experiencing pressures to limit their involvement of LGBTQ+ people.

In light of Pride month and the rising discrimination queer people are facing right now, All Things Considered invited Reservoir Church’s senior pastor, Steve Watson, to speak with host Arun Rath about bringing together an inclusive and diverse congregation, and offering counsel in difficult times.

Arun Rath: Steve, thanks for joining us.

Steve Watson: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Rath: Now, Reservoir Church ultimately made this decision to separate itself from the parent church. Tell us about the tension there, how your church came to what must have been a difficult decision?

Watson: Sure. You know, our church is not actually that old of a church. We had only started in the 1990s, but we had experienced some explosive growth and we had become a large church rather quickly. And like any large organization, you know, we held a lot of viewpoints on a lot of things, including the range of what exists within the Christian tradition — of those that take rather conservative or traditional perspectives on a small number of restrictive biblical texts and that don’t embrace the full expression of LGBTQ love and relationships. As well of those that would assume that we were moving in a more and more kind of liberative path for that community.

And we had to make some choices about the kind of community we wanted to be, the kind of church we wanted to be and what best represented our faith and values. And as you stated, it became important to us to say that our LGBTQ participants were going to experience a kind of full-fledged membership and dignity and affirmation of their presence and relationships as everyone else was. And, you know, that involved making some choices to be free to do that.

Rath: The church describes itself as Jesus centered. Could you explain what that means generally, but also how your sense of being Jesus centered led you to this decision?

Watson: Yeah, that’s a great question, thanks, Arun. I think, one, it means, I guess, that we’re in the Christian tradition. But maybe just the word “church” would have carry that. I think we say Jesus centered to signal a few things. One, that though we take sort of a number of progressive social values — I guess people would call it — we’re very interested in this vibrant, spiritual tradition and life that we’re part of, and we’re very interested in being a community that continues to read and pay attention to the ancient but timeless teachings of Jesus to guide us.

And I think for us, while there are things in the Christian tradition that are an obstacle to becoming a fully LGBTQ-inclusive community — I’m well aware that I serve within and live and practice a tradition that has been an oppressive force in a number of ways, including toward the LGBTQ community. But as far as being a Jesus-centered tradition, we see the teaching of Jesus as anchored in love, love for our Creator, God, love for our neighbor as ourselves and a tradition that at its best — historically and today still — is a liberative tradition that affirms that dignity and the relationships and the opportunity to love oneself, to love one’s neighbor, to love God for all people.

And so I think being in that tradition, at its best, centers love and justice, has led us to be the kind of fully inclusive church for the whole community that we seek to be.

Rath: And tell us about about your congregation in particular. It’s very diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Tell us how this congregation came together. How did you come to be so diverse in your particular church?

Watson: Yeah, I mean, thank you. I’m biased, I’m pastor of the community, but I do [think it’s] a beautiful community. We say every week, just as we do on our website, that this is a place where everyone, without exception, is invited to discover the love of God, the gift of community, the joy of living. And we take that “everyone without exception” really seriously. I think we do some things in our staffing, in our program, in our teaching to be explicit about the dignity, the value, the tremendous transcendent worth of all God’s children, as we would say. And I think we’ve had the grace to be in a city as diverse and rich as we are, and to just not put up obstacles to the full diversity of our city being expressed within our congregation.

Rath: I was just in Oregon and talking with a dear old friend about: there have been an awful hate-related shooting there. And one of the things that came up was people who are marginalized need special counsel right now more than ever, right? I imagine that must be something that you’re experiencing. And could you talk about that a little bit?

Watson: The past number of years have been incredibly stressful. Certainly this time of pandemic has been stressful for all people. But let’s be real: the time of the Trump administration, this time of escalating culture wars, this time [for] various members of our community, both for issues around white supremacy, homophobic, anti-LGBTQ violence. These have been threatening, volatile and scary times for so many.

Someone in my shoes — as a pastor in our own way, like others and helping professions — we’re called toward good listening, toward to try to kind of offer of counsel and friendship to others is very important this time. I would say that what we see, mostly as a faith community, is how much we all — and particularly those of us whose identities are under threat in various ways — we all need to experience communities of a profound belonging. And I think certainly all these things we’re talking about: a pandemic, that deeper and deeper unveiling of and awareness of white supremacy and race-based hatred and violence, anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence. These all threaten a lot of things, but they certainly threaten people’s sense of belonging. And one of the great things a healthy faith community can do, that uplifts people’s dignity rather than leads them to shame or strips them of it, is to give people a sense of deep and profound belonging. And want [a] group that is often more age-diverse and identity-diverse than they would find elsewhere. And so it’s it’s a real treasure for us as a church to experience and offer that to one another.

Rath: Before we let you go — it’s been great speaking with you. But I also want to ask if there’s anything — I know it’s part of the message of Jesus, right, is embracing those who have been cast out. I wonder if there’s any other message you wanted to leave with the community at large, before we let you go?

Watson: Yeah, absolutely. I think for those of us in religious communities or that come from religious heritage, most of our religious and faith communities have elements of their practice and tradition which have been oppressive. And for some of us, those have been harmful and painful to us in various ways. And most of our traditions, certainly mine — the Christian tradition with its centering of of love, with this expression of what the teaching of Jesus, the civil rights leaders came to call “a vision of beloved community.” Our traditions have tremendous liberative power, as well. And so it’s important for me — as a pastor for Reservoir, as a church — to represent and practice the most liberative parts of our tradition. And I certainly hope that all the beautiful children of God throughout our city will find where they need it, places that support their belonging and their own journey toward liberation. We’re certainly happy to be one place that’s part of that story for folks.

Rath: Steve, it’s been wonderful speaking with you. Thank you.

Watson: Oh, great pleasure. Thanks for having us on.

Rath: That’s Steve Watson, senior pastor at Reservoir Church in Cambridge. This is GBH’s All Things Considered.

How and Why to Pray the Examen

There is an old form of prayer called the Examen. It was first developed by the 15th century Spanish mystic Igancio de Loyola, who commended the priests in his growing movement called the Society of Jesus to pray this way every day. For a few years, I’ve been praying versions of this prayer daily myself. And this summer, I’m sharing that experience with a small group at Reservoir. 

If it interests you, here is how and why to pray the Examen. 

How to Pray the Examen

  1. Acknowledge presence and ask for God’s guidance.

Take a slow breath and remember God is with you. Whisper aloud if you can: you are with me, God. Ask for God to deepen your insight and wisdom. You are about to pray in the spirit of Psalm 139, seeking to know and be known, in all your beauty and troubles, just as you are already fully known by God. 

  1. Review your day.

Think about what you have experienced and felt throughout the day. (You can pray this way in the morning or the evening, considering either yesterday or the day that is coming to a close.) Identify any experiences in which life seems to be flowing more, and any where life is diminishing. This is a little different than highs and lows. You may have an experience of sadness, but one in which you felt really alive and connected. You may have accomplished something, but that accomplishment left you surprisingly empty. We’re looking to notice experiences in which we became more alive, which are likely times in which we are growing closer to God. And we’re looking to notice experiences in which we became less alive, which may be times in which we were moving away from God. (Ignatian spirituality calls this consolation and desolation.)

  1. Reflect on, talk to God about what you notice.

Pay attention to what you are noticing and learning. What do you have to say about these things? You may be helped by prayers of thank you, sorry, or please.

  • Thank you – gratitude to God or others for gifts, blessings, connection.
  • Sorry – letting God know how you lost your way, perhaps realizing you owe someone else an apology
  • Please – asking God for insight, guidance, help with things you are experiencing.
  1. Look forward to the day to come, with hope, resolution, and prayer.

Think and pray a bit about the day to come. Share your hopes with God. If you want to resolve to live differently in any way, feel free to do so. Ask God for whatever you or others in your life need.

Why to Pray the Examen

  1. Over time, you’ll discover God in all things.

The trademark phrase of Ignatian spirituality is the discovery of God in all things. The Examen invites us to notice how the Spirit of God has been with us each day and notice how we and others in our life either partnered with the Spirit of God or missed the moment. But over time, we notice more and more how God is always with us all, loving us and wooing us toward ever more just, creative, loving lives. 

  1. It’s a powerful tool for personal growth.

It is widely known that regular, structured self-reflection is one of the most powerful ways to grow in any area of life. The Examen offers just that opportunity, and it does so bathing the experience in gratitude, awareness of God’s presence, and prayer. The Examen can be a means to not only connect with God but to partner with God in growing an ever-more purposeful, meaningful, valuable life. 

  1. It can be endlessly adapted. 

The Examen is an old form or prayer and a flexible one that can be adapted to suit many purposes. On our blog you can a daily examen for living as an anti-racist person, co-written by Reservoir member and spiritual director Vernee Wilkinson. Last year, I wrote an examen for the long season of the pandemic. There are examen apps, including one I’ve used called Reimagining the Examen. The goal isn’t to pray the Examen the “right” way, but to use it as a guide however you are led.

Buffalo, The Church and the Call for Beloved Community

Drive seven hours west from Cambridge along route 90, and you’ll arrive in the working class, lake-side city of Buffalo, teeming with life. Were it in Massachusetts, it would be the second largest city in New England. Along the way, you’ll drive north of a little town called Conklin, where a young man grew into a violent white supremacist, so much so that he travelled to Buffalo last weekend with the intent to kill Black Americans. He drove to Tops Friendly Market in East Buffalo, a mostly Black working class neighborhood, where there was much to love and celebrate. Tops was the only grocery store around, in what would have otherwise been a food desert. Its existence was a triumph of community organizing, entrepreneurship, and American food distribution systems. Instead of wonder and abundance though, the city’s visitor was consumed with bitterness, entitlement, resentment, and violence. He opened fire, killing ten, injuring more. 

Ruth Whitfield had just visited her husband in his nursing home. Aaron Salter, Jr. was working a shift as a security guard, after a recent retirement from the Buffalo Police Department. Heyward Patterson was loading groceries into the car for a client he was driving. Andre Mackneil was out buying a cake for his three year old son, Margus Morrison buying snacks for a family movie night. Pearl Young knew food distribution well, as she’d been running a food pantry for twenty years. Geraldine Talley and Celestine Chaney were both grandmothers. Roberta Drury had been helping her brother recover from cancer. Katherine Massey had just been dropped off by her brother, one of the many in her large extended family. All ten of them were shot and killed, victims of a violent, racist rampage. All ten of them were image bearers of the living God, enfleshed reflections of the beauty and vitality of their creator. God weeps with their families now. 

The cancer of gun violence in America is not new. Each year, we hear of and read about dozens, perhaps hundreds of victims of shootings – mass shootings, suicides, domestic murders, police shootings, and more. The cancer of racial violence and white supremacy in America is even older, with us from the first days of a nation littered with the traumas of slavery, genocide, forced migrations, mass incarceration, lynchings, and manifold hate crimes that enfold before our eyes still. 

Christians have a decidedly mixed record in our history of racism and white supremacist violence. Most leading abolitionists in the 19th century were Christians. America’s great civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was birthed in and led by the Black church. Movements of liberation throughout the colonized world found courage for their fights for freedom in theologies of God’s solidarity with oppressed peoples. The New Testament itself proclaims God made known in human flesh in the birth of a brown-skinned, colonized, Jewish refugee and contains a letter that celebrates the faith and dignity of a runaway slave, insisting on his freedom. 

And yet American slaveholders were also mostly Christians, supported by expressions of Christian faith that insisted that this was all God’s will. Most white churches sat on the sidelines of struggles for civil rights in the 20th century, or actively resisted them. Movements of colonial liberation were necessary because Christians proclaimed that the colonization of the world, including the violence and slavery and cultural erasures involved, was the holy duty of baptized Christians. Even in the 21st century, if you’re a white and a Christians , you’re more likely to be resist immigration, more likely to hold anti-Asian and anti-Black and anti-Jewish stereotypes and resentments, and more likely to prefer white history and white culture and white people than if you are white and non-religious. 

The problem isn’t the faith itself. The faith of Jesus is one of healing and liberation, celebrating the created dignity of all humans and the infinite, redemptive beauty and possibilities in all people and all cultures. The problem is the culture of white supremacy that festers around many forms of white Christians culture, and the even greater prominence of apathy and disinterest among even more Christians and churches.

Given this context and history, it is the call of every white pastor and every white Christian in this country to specifically and clearly reject and denounce all forms of white supremacy. People of color manifest the image and glory of God every bit as much as those of us who are called white. Asian Americans, Black Americans, Latin Americans belong in this country and have a right to liberty and flourishing every bit as much as the descendants of Europeans. And let’s be frank: Native Americans’ claims to belonging and these rights are doubly, triply, infinitely stronger. 

As Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptizer quoted the prophets to say he was preparing the way, that every valley be lifted up and every mountain be made low, that all flesh could see the glory of God together. None made lower, none seeking to be higher, all flesh together. This is the anti racist, beloved community call of every disciple of Jesus and every church that bears his name. It is to stop centering and preferring the history, the culture, the theology, and the privilege of those who for centuries, churches have lifted up too high. And it is to humbly learn from and celebrate and center and prize the history, the culture, the theology, and the beauty of those who for centuries, churches have sought to make or keep low. 

All flesh – the Black flesh of grieving families in Buffalo, the Asian flesh of grandmothers terrified to walk alone in our cities, the queer flesh scorned and rejected by churches and families, even white flesh that was never meant to be elevated or centered – yearns to see the glory of God together. Those that bear the name of the risen Christ, keeper of the beautiful vision of beloved community for us all, dare hope and strive for nothing less.

A Time for Healing

This spring, Reservoir Church’s sermon series is called “How to Heal the World.” 

It’s kind of a cheeky, overstated title, but it came out of a series of conversations and reflections I had this winter about how sick and tattered our world is, how that’s impacting us, and the opportunity for something redemptive in that for followers of Jesus.

Our world has become sick with so many things – sick with violence, sick with racism, sick with sickness, and fear, and mistrust, and division and more. And all that’s not just far off, it’s not just abstraction. It touches our lives and relationships as well. And I’ve been wondering: what does it mean to worship and follow a loving, hopeful God who is always seeking to mend, to repair, to make things whole? And how can we find our own good, our own healing, our own salvation through participating in the healing work of God in our times? 

There’s a Jewish phrase for this work. It’s tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” This rabbinc wisdom is cited with gratitude and reverence by Muslims in the Quran as well. “Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.” 

Our world needs nothing less than this. And with the help of God and friends, this healing, mending, repair, and salvation is in our grasp.

So we collect here some calls to mending and healing from these spring messages:

Gratitude Letters*

From “Small Steps Toward Big Salvation” (4/24/22)

Write a letter of thanks to a friend, colleague, family member, or stranger. Be as specific and appreciative as possible. Before giving them the letter, ask if you can read it aloud to them. 

Praying for Your Six

From “Small Steps Toward Big Salvation” (4/24/22)

Pray regularly for the blessing and well-being of six local people whose name you know but who may not share your faith in God. 

Drop Your Stones

From “What to Do with People You Can’t Stand” (5/1/22) 

Cultivate attitudes of non-judgemental respect toward your enemies and others you can’t stand. Allow yourself to be angry, but ask God’s help in never holding others in contempt. Ask not just what you hate about an enemy but what in them it is possible to love. 

Make Better Apologies

From “The Good News Opportunity of Reparations” (5/8/22)

Whenever you say, sorry, make sure you first tell the truth about what happened. Then offer to make things right in some way or ask the person you’re apologizing to if there is anything you can do to make things right. Tell the truth. Apologize. Offer amends. That’s how to say sorry.

A Vision for Church

From “The Role of the Church in Healing the World” (5/15/22)

Get and stay as engaged as possible in a community of people looking to respond together to the teaching and vision of Jesus. Usually, but not always, this community is called “church.” Let that community help you remember how much we all matter to God and one another and how much God matters to us. And regularly offer you time, treasure, and talents together in the service of the world’s blessing, mending, repair, and healing.

Cultivate Humility

From “Humility” (5/22/22)

Cultivate humility in your life: commitments to unlearning, not just learning, commitments to curiosity and companionship and questions when you’re tempted to superiority, judgment, or fear.

*Inspired by our North Indian friends and partners from Asha.