On Saturday, we went to the annual Our Family Coalition multifaith holiday party, held at St. Gregory of Nyssa in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco.  Aside from the pleasures of getting together with lots of other LGBT parents and their kids, I was looking forward to seeing the inside of this church again.

In the center of the rotunda is the table where they serve communion, and carved on it are words about Jesus welcoming sinners to his table.  (On their website, they say, “We welcome all people–especially strangers—to communion.”)

Then, up above, all around the inside of the rotunda, is a gorgeous mural of several dozen dancing figures, led by Jesus, Lord of the Dance. These “Dancing Saints” include actual saints of the Episcopal Church and many other saints chosen by the congregation in partnership with the artist, Mark Dukes.  Malcolm X holds hands with Queen Elizabeth I; Charles Darwin’s hand is on Saint Symeon’s shoulder. Cesar Chavez dances along in front of Anne Frank. Many of the dancers are barefoot (if not totally naked, as is King David); many wear sandals; Eleanor Roosevelt wears loafers. All have haloes. It’s almost enough to make me want to convert to Episcopalianism and join this church.

Okay, to be honest, it doesn’t come close.  I am just never going to be a Christian.  But I can’t stop smiling when I look up at those dancers. What I love about St. Gregory’s is not only that this beautiful mural reminds me of the people I also wish to emulate, but that they have done three things any religious community needs to do to thrive:  they have proudly laid claim to their tradition; they have given that tradition a form particular to their time and place; and they have declared in a beautiful, striking, and literally indelible way what they stand for. Walk into St. Gregory and you know that their religion is about joyously welcoming everyone into a circle where all may eat and, more, celebrate.

And they do dance in their services . . .

Dancing along with the saints (c) 2006 David Sanger

. . . and from the reports of those who’ve gone to services there, they keep the promise made on their altar and their website–all are welcome.  They host a weekly food pantry and it is held around the altar, under the dancing saints in the rotunda.  And of course they welcome our families every year.

Fun assignment for membership committees (worship committees, altar guilds, buildings and grounds committees, etc.): pretend you are a visitor to your congregation. What do the architecture and art, the chosen or accidental icons of your space, communicate about the congregation’s purpose? Do they get it right?

Icon of Sojourner Truth by Mark Dukes; Photo (c) 2006 David Sanger

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