STICKS & STONES / FLESH & BLOOD

Liturgical images and movements that speak to experience

The Liturgy of the Stones


This ritual was originally designed for Dignity-Integrity/Rochester (D-I), a faith community chiefly comprised of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, their families and friends.  Because DignityUSA, a national Roman Catholic organization calling for church reform, publicly disagrees with those Church teachings which deny the wholeness and holiness of our lives and loves, many bishops have been forced to distance themselves from the organization and its local chapters.  As a result, when D-I gathers to worship in the Roman tradition they do so using the ritual Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest

This community worships on alternate Sundays in the Episcopal tradition.  The Eucharist they receive at these liturgies fortifies their members whose inclusive understanding of the Sacrament embraces interdenominational table fellowship.  The symbolic use of stones in the liturgy described below helped us to connect our Roman and Episcopal celebrations.  Those participating in the Episcopal celebration of the Eucharistic feast were encouraged to pick up a stone as they returned to their seats.  After carrying them throughout the week, remembering God’s gift, they would bring them to the following week’s Liturgy of the Stones as a symbol of solidarity connecting the two rituals.  In this way our prophetic actions could be empowered by what we have received more than by what we are being denied.

For the first year and a half of our Eucharistic fast, the following ritual was poignantly placed at the point where the community would normally bring forward the gifts of bread and wine.  This symbolic action not only attempts to give voice to the pain and deprivation experienced by some of God’s children who in their hunger cry out for bread and are given a stone instead; it tries to move them prayerfully beyond victimhood and into prophetic action.

THE MOUND OF WITNESS

As the rainbow was placed in the heavens by God as a reminder of his covenant with creation, so mounds of stones were often erected upon the earth by the peoples of the ancient Near East as reminders of their obligations toward one another.  While these structures stood as witnesses to human affairs, the ultimate witness was understood to be the God of their Ancestors, the Ancient of Days whose advocacy for justice was as firm and lasting as the stones they used.

Before the service a basket of stones is preset at the entrance to the worship space.  As members of the community arrive, they are invited to take a small stone in memory of having received the Body and Blood of Christ in past Eucharistic celebrations and in recognition of their longing to do so again.

INVITATION
(based on Micah 6:6-8;  Genesis 31:45-54)

PRESIDER: 
With what shall we come before the LORD,
and bow before the God most high? 
 

PEOPLE: 
Shall we bring to the altar holocausts, calves a year old to burn?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
or ten-thousand streams of oil?
 

PRESIDER: 
You have been told what is good, and what the LORD requires:
Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God. 

PEOPLE: 
God’s own Son lived a pure sacrifice
mirrored in the broken bread and wine out-poured.  
Fruits of our lives and labors, he offered them to God. 
Symbols of his life and love, he offered them to us.

PRESIDER: 
Bread and wine we do not bring nor can we celebrate as Christ commands,
for the Roman Church has yet to accept our lives and loves as holy gifts
worthily joined with Christ and his most perfect offering.

PEOPLE: 
Is there no created sign that would express our right, our worth?
Is there not some ancient rite to speak on our behalf to God?

PRESIDER: 
Jacob took a humble stone, and had his kinsfolk do the same.
They gathered stones, and made a mound,
and called it “the mound of witness,”
erected in the sight of all to safeguard justice in the land.
For they were sure their Awesome God would keep watch
lest covenants be broken.
And they offered sacrifices there,
and sealed their promises under God’s watchful eye.

OFFERTORY

PRESIDER: 
Bring forward stones as a testament to your faith.

The presider goes to the altar with her/his stone, and places it in a preset bowl or plate.  Its material should befit the dignity of the ritual.  At least one hand should remain in physical contact with the vessel during the people’s offering.  Members of the assembly process forward and add their stones.  The presider then stands behind the altar, extends his/her right hand over the stones in a blessing gesture, and prays:

PRAYER OVER THE STONES 
(based on Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans, IV.1-2;  Matthew 4:1-11)

PRESIDER: 
We are the wheat of God, ground by these stones,
so that we may be found the pure bread of Christ….
Beg Christ for us:  so that, by their means,
our lives will be found a sacrifice to God.
 

ALL: 
We join with Christ in the desert, 
resisting the temptation to change these stones into bread
to satisfy our spiritual hunger. 

Not denying our pain but speaking out of it,
we articulate our reliance upon
the compassionate care of God 
for our sustenance and strength. 
By placing our trust in the One whose power it is to save,
we can continue our sacrifice of worship and loving service
as the Body of Christ––though crushed, made whole.

PRESIDER: 
“Like living stones, let yourselves be built up into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
 (1 Peter 2:5)

The service moves directly into an Act of Thanksgiving.

___________________________

Consideration should be given to how the stones will be reserved.  For several years the stones offered at the D-I liturgy formed a physical “mound of witness” in a retired baptismal font belonging to our hosting parish, St. Luke / St. Simon Cyrene Episcopal Church, as an act of solidarity with all those who have become one with Christ and are called to proclaim his gospel of liberation.  “…yet even if these should remain silent, the very stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:40)

Author's addendum:  The stones eventually were reserved at my home while the community discerned about what might be an appropriate, more permanent place of honor for them.  When I began making plans to relocate to Denver CO, it was decided that we would continue running with the bread analogy.  While leaving some of the stones in a member’s Rochester garden, I reverently left handfuls of stones at various stops along my drive out West…a trail of crumbs forever linking me to the community I served for 12 years.  The remainder of the mound is part of my home’s meditation garden.