Greetings, Poetry Lovers - I've missed you! The past several weeks have found me criss-crossing South Carolina as we've just moved from Beaufort on the coast to Travelers Rest in the mountains. My husband Jeff moved on ahead to start a new job, while I stayed on in a temporary apartment getting our house there sold and waiting for a basement renovation here to finish up. To the usual moving stresses, and my sadness at saying goodbye to a place I dearly loved, we had an awful shock last week. Our wee doggie Rita fell suddenly and critically ill, and she spent a week in and out of the emergency vet near Beaufort. On last Tuesday afternoon, the day before I moved on Wednesday, I had to have her put down in my arms. My heart is still shattered.
But life brings us joys as well as sorrows. Now we are closer to our kids and are celebrating Seth's birthday this weekend. Since today (Friday) is his actual birthday, I'm offering up something a little different. Seth is one of the pastors at Haywood Street Congregation, a church ministry in downtown Asheville, NC. He was their first intern in 2017-18. After graduating from seminary at Candler (Emory), he joined the Haywood Street staff in the fall of 2021. It's unique place - self-described as "holy chaos." With a heart for those experiencing homelessness and anyone who feels they have no place at the table, Haywood offers a place at the table. Literally. Whether it's a dining table with nice linens and homecooked meals, or the Communion table during a service, everyone is welcome.
Since Jeff and I are now less than an hour away from Asheville, we'll be able to visit Seth and girlfriend Ginnie more often. [And we're just two hours away from Morgan and Matt and Baby Sawyer in North Georgia. ] A few weeks ago we got to hear Seth preach - always special for us - and I felt compelled to write about the service, for no particular reason. No two services are ever the same at Haywood Street! I'm sharing that reflection below, if you are interested. If you're just here for poetry, that's fine too!
Here are two haiku I wrote when visiting Seth during his internship year years ago, followed by my recent thoughts.
the hard places
where she sleeps
bottle rockets, No. 38, Feb. 2018
empty street -
she stoops to pocket
Acorn, No. 39, Fall 2017
poems ©Robyn Hood Black
To Holy Chaos
by Robyn Hood Black – reflections on Feb. 26, 2023
It's a crisp February Sunday morning, no rain, in downtown Asheville.
Outside the sanctuary of Haywood Street Congregation, people do congregate. Many have come for Sunday's Welcome Table breakfast downstairs, delicious food prepared with love and served on real plates, on real tablecloths, with real meal-time conversations. Fresh flowers, too.
Around the grounds and in the garden, small groups huddle. Some people have bedrolls and backpacks; most have lines in their faces belying their age. There is quiet talk, and colorful language, and the jolt of a glass jar breaking on concrete. Always, a few folks sleep here and there and everywhere.
This morning, a table is set up offering immunizations for pets. Dogs are regulars at Haywood Street, and today they receive some extra TLC.
Inside, a few dozen people await the start of the service. The magnificent fresco is a call to worship, its colors echoed in tall stained glass windows - and in the diversity of the congregation. The space is not overly large but big enough, simple but with handcrafted touches whispering, All Are Welcome Here.
Jody invites anyone interested to come up to be "the choir" and help lead the opening songs. A few people join without hesitation. At the piano is a beautiful young trans woman, playing with heart and flourish and abundant talent.
Later in the service, that piano will feel the touch of a diminutive fair-skinned, white-haired 85-year-old woman, as she shares one of her favorite traditional hymns. That music, too, moves everyone hearing it.
Today's announcements include one about the award-winning 2021 documentary on the fresco, Theirs is the Kingdom, and about a new group to meet weekly in support of anyone at any stage in their addiction journey.
To say that Haywood Street's services are interactive would be an understatement. In the "Blessings and Testimonials" time, anyone is invited to share – a spontaneous song, a personal story, some quiet yearning in a heart that needs expression. Today a young woman sings a contemporary Christian song, followed by a man who often shares his vocal talents. Microphones aren't needed here.
Speakers are open and vulnerable, sharing raw hardships as well as sublime blessings. There are health concerns mentioned in addition to gratitude that a trailer has become available for one of the singers. A lively discussion bubbles up as well, with a few women sharing how they personally hear God. Differing views are respected in an invisible web of trust.
Sermons are dialogical, too, and are called "conversational homilies." Today, after our older piano player volunteers to read verses from Matthew following the church calendar, Seth preaches about Jesus's need to be by himself. For starters, his baptism was followed by 40 days in the wilderness. Quiet time alone is not always easy, as the temptation narratives illustrate.
Jesus sought out solitude amidst the demands of his unfolding calling, his heavy understanding of who he was and was becoming. Seth preaches about the necessity of self-care, which can take many forms. His words resonate with many in the pews in the form of nods and words of agreement.
True to Haywood Street's motto of "Holy Chaos," the service is peppered with an occasional surprise. A couple of times, a smiling young man with flapping clothes walks at a fast clip up the center aisle, and out the back of the sanctuary toward the offices. He is high on something, and waves to a few folks each time, and even to the fresco.
At another moment, Jody opens the door to the narthex for someone. This happens to occur at the exact time that a cat from the animal table, brought inside because it kept trying to get away, receives its shot – and a hearty, screechy yowl permeates the service.
After the sermon, needs are shared and updates given on situations calling for prayer. Anyone who wants to speak is heard and affirmed by the lovely and spunky woman guiding this response time. After every contribution, folks shake a little ring of bells left on the pews or their car keys or otherwise join in to support each need.
The offering comes in the form of music and a volunteer holding a basket up front. Attendees are welcome to give but also appreciated if they would like to give but aren't in a position to. Communion follows, with one volunteer holding a bowl of pieces of homemade bread, and another holding a cup of juice to dip it in. Anyone may partake.
Today the service closes with a song, "Blessed Quietness," reflecting the morning's theme. During this last hymn, a man who was stretched out on a pew wakes up and looks around. Even though the elements of this service and the homily will be repeated on Wednesday, it will not be the same. This is Haywood Street, and no two days are ever alike.
This holy chaos might not be for everyone, but it's absolutely for anyone.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Seth!