Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tears at the Altar

About a mile or so from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where I serve as pastor, there is an Episcopal Church called St. Andrews. A little over a week ago, St. Andrews was turned over to the diocese. Most of the members didn't know this was coming. They didn’t know that the last time they worshiped together might very well turn out to be their last Sunday. From the perspective of members of St. Andrews, they have been “evicted” from their church. They worshiped together on a Sunday, and then three days later the locks were changed and a notice was posted on the church doors.

Some members of St. Andrews gathered on the front lawn of their church building the first Sunday after this happened. They brought their prayer books and their lawn chairs and met together outside the building that had been their spiritual home for so many years. And the media was there to take it all in, making their pain a very public news story.

That same day, after I had worshiped with the good people of Holy Trinity, I went to a neighborhood restaurant and happened upon a large number of St. Andrews’ members who were having brunch together after their service on the lawn. I listened to their stories and expressed my sorrow. And then, I invited them to worship with us at Holy Trinity. They were concerned about worshiping in a church where they could receive Holy Communion, and I was happy to tell them that Holy Trinity was just the place.

Well, they took me up on my offer and invited their friends, so this morning we had about 25-30 people from St. Andrews worshiping with us. They all sat together in the back pews and they were a joy to have with us. They sang out on the hymns, they passed the peace just as liberally as we do at Holy Trinity, and they even laughed at my jokes (extra points for that). Then it came time for communion.

As folks knelt before the altar and reached out their hands to receive the bread, I looked each one of them in the face and saw eyes brimming with tears. Just seeing this, I could hardly keep from crying myself. Their grief flooded the chancel.

Then I noticed something else that took me aback. As I served the bread to people who looked up at me with damp canals marking their cheeks, I realized that many of those teary people were members of Holy Trinity. They weren’t crying out of their own pain, but for the pain of people they had never met before today. They couldn’t be in the presence of such grief at the Lord’s Table without sharing it. Their tears came from a place of deep compassion. And I thought of the words in 1 Corinthians: "If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts share in its suffering." Yes.

I often marvel at the people of Holy Trinity. They’re the real deal. And I don’t know that I ever felt that as deeply as I did today. Truly, Christ was present. Not just in the bread and the wine, but in the Body of Christ gathered, in the love they had for one another. Witnessing this outpouring of love, I felt my own eyes welling up. How could I hold the tears back when I was in the presence of such beauty and grace?

I don’t know all that led up to the problems that St. Andrews is experiencing. But from the pain I have seen on the faces of those who have been hurt, it seems to be an example of Church at its worst. And what I witnessed today at Holy Trinity was Church at its best. I’m glad that the people of St. Andrews haven’t given up on the Church. And I’m glad they chose to worship with us this morning at Holy Trinity because their presence reminded me of why I’m so grateful to be a part of this extraordinary community of faith.

It was the eighth anniversary of my installation as pastor at Holy Trinity. Thank you thank you thank you.  


Jill Swain said...

Through my Facebook friends, I was able to read this.

Thank you.

How lovely.

Jill Swain

Bill Milholland said...

As usual, you nailed, Nancy. Thanks for your ministry and your love. Bill

MaineCelt said...

What an occasion of grace. Blessings on your continued ministry!

Pastor Jeffrey Ingold said...

Blest be the tie that binds - the body and blood of our common Savior - and, love for our neighbor. Awesome!

Julie said...

On the heels of a week where church was not as it was meant to be, this story reminds me that when church works well there is no better place to be. Thank you for sharing this story and God's table with people in pain.

Lennie said...

Yeah, y'all are the real deal, and one of the greatest blessings of my life. You do know how to do a welcome.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nancy and the wonderful congregation of Holy Trinity I was one of the tearful ones from St Andrews what a welcoming group made us feel so welcome I was so touched by your compassion and wish to thank you see you again this Sunday Barbara