Morning Worship: Chautauqua can choose to become the Beloved Community

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell concluded her week as Chautauqua’s chaplain in residence at Friday’s morning worship service. Her topic was “Chautauqua’s Choice” and the Scripture text was Revelation 21:1-5.

“ ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ We repeat these words every Sunday [at Chautauqua] before the passing of the peace,” Campbell said. “This is a promise, a word of hope, that the past is over and we can look to tomorrow for the new [thing].”

She called Revelation the perfect text for the last of the daily morning worship services for the 2013 Season. “We must believe that forgiveness is possible,” she said, “that all things can be made new; that we do not have to live with the burden of the past, but can envision a rich and full future.”

Campbell believes that Chautauqua has the capacity to become “the Beloved Community.” She said that love does not end, but hurt does; nursing past resentments will hold people back.

“God is willing and able to forgive and calls us to accept forgiveness,” she said. “Our lives should be ordered by hope, and hope depends on love and forgiveness.”

She illustrated her point with a story from her granddaughter Katie, who is serving in the Peace Corps in Peru. She is located in a village where “food is scarce, love is difficult, children die and mothers do not cradle their children because they will die,” Campbell said.

Katie has written a blog and has shared how the frustration and confusion of her first year in Peru has been transformed into hope in her final months in the country. Katie wrote, “Things have started to work … work being a loose term. This is the moment when they actually hold you accountable for seeing that the project they chose is completed.”

She was working with a mother whose child was not thriving, a child who could only communicate with tears. Katie worked with the mother to get her to hold the child and gave her ideas on how to stimulate the child intellectually and emotionally.

The child grew, and became “normal, disruptive, curious and chatty,” Campbell said. The mother opened up emotionally and reached out to her older children, as well, and began to tell them, “I love you.”

“Katie said she could not take credit for the changes, just that she gave the mother a route to find confidence,” Campbell said. “Katie could have given up, but she loved the mother into a solution. ‘All things,’ Katie wrote, ‘can be made new.’ ”

Chautauqua can be a community where dreams are realized; it can become a community of peace and caring, Campbell said.

“Chautauqua can be the Beloved Community where we push our boundaries, where we love our neighbors who may be strangers, people we don’t know or don’t have an inborn empathy for,” she said.

The Beloved Community will not be conflict-free, she said, but conflicts will be resolved with love. Sin will be confessed, and forgiveness will be a reality. “It will be a community that easily forgives, loves and does not hold grudges,” she said.

“Chautauqua can say to the broader world that it is possible to be a community in which love is the order of the day,” she continued. “Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they were to ‘bear with one another in love.’ “

Campbell called the phrase “to bear with one another” archaic, but in the birthing room, when a woman can’t stand the pain of the birthing process anymore, she is told to “bear down”; out of that effort comes new life.

“Bear down,” she said. “Love, gentleness, humility and patience — this is what it will take if Chautauqua is to become the Beloved Community.”

The Rev. J. Paul Womack presided. The Rev. Ben Sorensen read the Scripture. He is a lifelong Chautauquan and serves as an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he supervises children, youth, college and young adult ministries. The Motet Choir sang “Amen, Amen,” arranged by Lloyd Larson. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, led the choir.

The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provided support for this week’s services.