Wednesday, October 01, 2008

evening prayer in a week of turmoil

We had a service of psalms, hymns and holy communion this evening, in response to the dislocation that our community has felt this week with the news that Wachovia has been purchasd by Citigroup. Charlotte is a banking community---I often tell friends in other places that our ethos is not primarily the left/right political divide, but is more shaped by money (and indeed there are other strong banks here). Until very early this week we were the corporate home of two of the largest banks in the U.S.---Bank of America and Wachovia. Now the latter, for all practical purposes, is gone; at best it will be reshaped into a very different organization. All of this has been in the context of the sharp stock market declines which have affected the retirement resources of a number of people, and severe gasoline shortages, which have also forced us to think about our energy consumption in new ways.

All of this has been a very new experience for Charlotte, which has largely avoided the economic downturn that most of the country has experienced in recent months and even years (in contrast, most of the rest of North Carolina has been hammered by the loss of textile and furniture jobs). All of this has felt very familiar to me, having spent eighteen years in the piedmont triad of North Carolina: RJ Reynolds leaving for Atlanta, Piedmont Airlines being swallowed up by U.S. Air, Wachovia moving to Charlotte to merge with another bank.

The difficulty lies in the dislocation that many feel, particularly individuals and families who have begun to set down roots in a new place: discovering friendships, finding a church home, pursuing avenues of volunteerism and service, developing professionally, all of this somehow called into question by the events of the last few days. Everything--relationships, commitments--becomes more tentative.

We gathered in the chancel of our sanctuary, encouraging people to fill in those spaces before spilling into the pews. We chose five psalms---1, 16, 23, 40 and 46, and read them slowly and responsively (not as slowly as in a Benedictine monastery, but slowly nonetheless), with those on the pulpit side alternating with those on the lectern side. These psalms were interspersed with hymns: How Firm a Foundation; Be Still My Soul; When Our Confidence Is Shaken (a nice text by the British Methodist composer Fred Pratt Green); and O God, Our Help In Ages Past. I then read Philippians 4 ("I have learned the secret of being content...") and Matthew 6 ("Do not be anxious about your life..."), and we closed with the celebration of Holy Communion.

We were mostly there to draw upon the resources of Christianity---faith, hope, assurance, compassion, dependence on God and each other. In a week that has introduced a full measure of anxiety, anger and despair into our lives, and in the awareness of our complicity with the greed and materialism of American culture, the human cost and our resulting need for God and each other was palpable.


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