I’ve wanted to talk with the Rev. Cathlin Baker, pastor of the West Tisbury First Congregational Church, ever since she returned from her three-month sabbatical in Scotland about six months ago. We finally sat down together last week and talked about her time in Scotland and the project she’s been working on — helping members of her congregation map their spiritual journey while she maps her own. Although traveling to Scotland covered some distance, that journey was only one part of a more significant personal expedition.
Raised in a household that identified as “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR), Pastor Baker enrolled in Union Theological Seminary when she was 26, and began to evolve from identifying as SBNR to Christian. Now she’s taken on a pastoral study project alongside members of her congregation.
So far 21 members of the congregation have participated in three small groups of seven, coming together for a series of four classes with themes that reflect elements of a map: point of origin; doubts and detours; landmarks (formative people and things that shaped them spiritually), and the last session, about their current location. Another part of the process is writing a 500-word essay about an insight they’ve gained and then sharing it from the pulpit.
“They write something at the end, and on the final night we talk about why church now, why are you here now,” Pastor Baker explained.
She said she began the project because she wanted to honor the stories in her congregation, and the many paths that bring people to church.
“But even I was surprised at the incredible diversity,” she said. “Along the way I found their stories strengthening me.”
Pastor Baker’s spiritual background began when she received a “walking mantra” from the founder of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, when she was just 5 years old. Now she’s delving deeper into finding out how or why one chooses a church, how one identifies with being Christian.
“There is a becoming element to this,” she said. “We’re all in the process of becoming more Christ-like, even the minister. We’re all ministers; we’re a priesthood of all believers.”
Through this process of mapping their spiritual journeys, Pastor Baker hopes to foster a stronger connection within her congregation, coming to the realization that church can fulfill two roles, spiritual and religious. The traditions, community, and accountability that religion represents can exist alongside spirituality, which can be considered a more individual process. By sharing spirituality with others in the faith community, people can have a spiritual experience in church.
“Maybe they always have, but now we’re talking about it,” Pastor Baker said.
It’s her direct connection with Scotland that brought about an upcoming visit to the Vineyard by one of her spiritual teachers, the Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell. She’s spent time on retreats led by the Rev. Dr. Newell, a minister in the Church of Scotland, and found out that his Northeastern U.S. speaking tour included a week with no commitments, so she asked if he’d like to come to the Island that week. He said yes, and local organizations (the Martha’s Vineyard Scottish Society, the First Congregational Church, the Federated Church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Good Shepherd Parish’s Wednesday book group, the United Methodist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, the Yoga Barn, and other generous donors) are coming together to sponsor a free lecture by Pastor Newell at 6 pm at the Ag Hall on Wednesday, July 5.
According to a flyer about the lecture, the Rev. Dr. Newell is a poet, peacemaker, and scholar, and divides his time between Edinburgh with his family, where he does most of his writing, and the U.S., where he teaches and preaches across the country. The lecture is titled “Celtic Consciousness: The Sacred Earth.” Pastor Newell is known internationally for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality.
In Pastor Baker’s own spiritual mapping exercise, she said the formative pieces are her time spent at Iona Abbey off the coast of Scotland, her retreats with Pastor Newell, and the spiritual writing she’s undertaking. She said the congregation at the West Tisbury church has responded favorably to the spiritual mapping project, according to a survey she conducted.
“The people just love it, it strengthens their own faith,” she said. “There’s the motto that says, ‘No matter where you are on your life’s journey, you’re welcome here,’ and I feel like we’re really doing that.”
For more information on the Rev. Dr. Newell’s lecture, call 508-693-2842.
Edgartown’s Federated Church will change its service hours beginning July 2 and ending Sept. 3. There will be a brief service for early birds at 8 am on Sunday, and then a full service at 9:30 am. On July 3, the church will present the fourth annual reading of Frederick Douglass’ speech “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro.” That event will be co-hosted by Friends of the Edgartown Library and the Federated Church. Then the church will march in the Fourth of July Parade as part of its 375th anniversary celebration. For more information on any of these events, call 508-627-4421.
Trinity Episcopal Church in Oak Bluffs opened for the season on Sunday, June 18, at 9 am, and the Rev. Ken Campbell will be preacher and celebrant again on June 25. Trinity was the first Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard, and has been serving the Island during the summer since 1882.
Union Chapel, also in Oak Bluffs, is open for the season, and holds services Sundays at 10 am, with guest speakers every week.
There are tasty options coming up at worship sites around the Island. Rumor has it that Grace Episcopal Church will begin selling its delicious lobster rolls on June 30. It’s already time for the Strawberry Festival at the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury next Saturday, June 24. Good Shepherd Parish sells lobster rolls during the Fourth of July celebration at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Edgartown, and malasadas at the Tisbury Street Fair on July 8. Author Joan Nathan visits the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center on Friday, July 7. She’ll discuss her book “King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World” after the 5:30 pm Shabbat service. A dinner goes along with her talk, and will feature recipes from her book prepared by caterer Jan Burhman. Cost for dinner and the talk is $36, and reservations can be made by calling 508-693-0745. There will be cookbooks for sale at the event.
A free Island-wide nondenominational community prayer gathering is planned for Wednesday, June 28, at 6 pm at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. It’s an opportunity to gather with friends and neighbors, no matter what religious affiliation, and give thanks and pray for one another. For more information, contact Gladys Thomas-Toscano at 646-577-1702.