What is that Bird Doing on a Stick?
Maybe when you were singing the first hymn you noticed something over your head sailing through the air. Maybe you have seen Cameron Gabbey holding the bird expertly and waving it so it never hits anyone, and even the red ribbon stays aloft. (That’s harder than it looks.) Maybe you have been wondering why we do this, or what it means. Maybe you did not know who to ask.
I brought the bird from Boston. When I was going to be installed in a church outside of Boston in early 1998 I was aware that no women had yet been called to become senior ministers of larger churches in New England. Many have done it since, but it just happened that when I was called to lead a church with 875 members in 1997, no other women had assumed a responsibility like this. So when the time came for my installation I wanted to add an extra festive touch because I knew a lot of my colleagues and friends would be there that day.
I came up with the idea of a dove that would float above the congregation leading the clergy procession. I ordered the dove from a kite maker, and the extension pole from a flag shop and put them together. This dove served us well, for Pentecost other installations and ordinations.
But then one summer day before we had air conditioning in the church, a bird flew in the open window during the first hymn. It spent the hour circling the chancel and then departed on the final hymn. Though it might have been attracted by the organ vibrations, it was so odd and wonderful that I have always thought it carried significance. It served to remind us that God’s spirit does descend like a dove, from time to time, when you least expect it, as the Bible says.
Ever since that experience, I have had a keen sense that the Holy Spirit hovers over us, and mediates the sacred intersection at the heart of worship. When I saw the height of our sanctuary at First Congregational I thought the dove would remind us of God’s presence in worship. It is comforting to remember that the Holy Spirit is especially present in times of change and transition. It also reminds us that whenever we gather in God’s house we are met by this benevolent force that draws us onto holy ground.
That’s why we have that dove in our worship services. I’m glad some of you asked.