Last October we hosted the second annual Symposia: An Intersection of Conversation & Innovation, a forum in which alumni of The Seattle School presented the ongoing work they are pursuing at the intersection of text, soul, and culture. Integrative education does not end at graduation, and our alumni are proof of that. Symposia highlights the ways that Seattle School alumni are continuing to wrestle with big questions and big dreams in theology, psychology, and culture.
This week, we’re featuring a presentation by Nathan Hollifield (MACS, ‘10), “Dying with Grace.” Nathan is the pastor of Fircrest United Methodist Church and the founding architect of Create Commons, a radically inclusive faith community that exists to live out the compassionate heart of God in Tacoma.
In this presentation, Nathan talks about how, when we was preparing to be a pastor, he assumed he would lead innovative, edgy congregations that were politically active and living embodied theology out in the real world. Instead, he was appointed to “two traditional, historic, gray-haired churches in Tacoma—both of which were showing all the signs that they were in the final stages of their institutional life.” Over 18 months, Nathan journeyed with both of those congregations through their institutional deaths and walked several members through their biological deaths. “This profoundly changed me. It changed what I thought I knew about Christian faith, and it changed the way that I will do pastoral ministry forever.”
Pulling from his experience, an analogy to the saguaro cactus, and texts including Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson, and Dying Unto Life by Arthur C. McGill, Nathan invites us to ask: “What is the good news in dying?” Our liturgies and hymns often point to the good news in death, with the hope of resurrection and eternal life, we often fail to look for the good news and abundant life in the actual experience of dying.
What was needed was a Christian theology and praxis not of death, but of dying.
Nathan’s presentation is moving, thoughtful, and deeply sacramental. We invite you to consider how the questions Nathan raises point us toward a reorientation of theology and praxis in our lives, our relationships, and our congregations.
“The sacraments fixed within the dying and death of Jesus teach individuals and congregations how to die well, following the pattern of Jesus. […] Dying well is not something that just happens when the moment comes. It is something we practice. Dying well is a spiritual practice, and if we want to live well, we must practice dying well.”