2/13/2011

The Joys of Sitting in the Pew: A Sunday Reflection

St. Peter's Lewes
This morning, Sunday February 13th, I was free to simply come to church, having led Adult Christian Education between the services and having the evening Eucharist to celebrate. 

Knowing that The Rev. Carlyle Gill was preaching I got over to the St. Peter's just as the Gospel was being read. The sermon was a rouser on the very difficult part of the Sermon on the Mount read this Sunday.

There were almost 200 people in church, with all the pews filled and people in extra seats in the back. I sat on one of the usher's benches for the sermon but then gave that seat up to a mother and daughter who came in from Sunday School and stood for the remainder of the service. The sunshine, all that rare this bleak winter, was pouring through the stained glass window behind the altar. 

Everything about the service was affirming of the church that cradled me, affirmed me, confirmed me, ordained me. The service was filled with the easy dignity of people who know what they are singing and praying, who follow the service not from the book or the leaflet, but from the heart. Two nine year old boys were working with adult ushers to help take up the collection and bring forward the elements, and when they returned to their posts at the back of the church, I could see them singing the Sanctus from memory, with full clear voices. I looked at the father of one of the boys and said, "Listen to that," and he said, "if he gets it now he will never forget it."
Young Jesus
The mother and daughter who took the place on the usher's bench became my family for the moment. When we passed the peace I noticed that the daughter had a home made valentine for her mother. I asked if she had made it, and she nodded, smiled at her mother proud and happy as could be. 

At St. Peter's we all join hands to say the Lord's Prayer. The girl, her mom, and the couple next to me were all linked by hands. We were linked to all the rest of the folk in church - the visiting couple next to them, the Vestry member and her child, the widow, two gay couples, a single mother, a whole Filipino family, and on and on into the mass of people there. We were a people gathered for Thanksgiving. It is a small but very real wonder.

In all the flurry, muttering and wringing of hands about the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church and other such grand things, my suspicion is that sitting in the pew (or in my case standing in the back of a very full church) we are mostly surrounded by the kind of family that a parish offers us - a community wonderfully blessed by common prayer and common praise.

Sometimes in the clergy thing I forget just how wonderful it can be to be part of rather than leading worship. I could drink deeply from the beauty of holiness and the joy of companionship in Christ. I could be with the children who know their prayers and the elders who are losing their hearing, with adults who long for blessing and infants who, burbling along with small cries and sounds, are a blessing.
I came away refreshed and immensely thankful that I was part of a worshiping community doing what it does best. It was a joy to be in the pew.

My sense is across denominations, across the divides in Anglicanism, across the divorce between TEC and ACNA, across the islands of division, there are people doing this stuff of breaking bread, saying our prayers and engaging in the apostles teaching and fellowship. I would do well to remember that at its core we are always local, always a little people gathered in the midst of a wider world, always a fellowship, a koinonia - and we are often uncomplicated and true to our calling.  Perhaps dear reader you might remember this too.

10 comments:

  1. Lovely post, Mark. I hearken to the days when I was where most people in my congregation are - when all church was local. I hardly ever thought of my own diocese, much less the national church, and much, much less the Anglican Communion. Those were the days! Ignorance is bliss.

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  2. The turmoil of the larger Church usually ends at my church door. Personal and local needs are much more urgent and pressing than the power-struggles and doctrinal dog fights of international Anglicanism.
    Here in New York, we always share the fellowship of old friends and perfect strangers who we hope will become new friends.

    Far from the dying elderly church described by the detractors of the Episcopal Church, my parish is growing, quite active with everything from Benedictine spirituality groups to feeding street kids to Bible study. We have our elderly, and we have a lot of kids and infants every Sunday.

    I agree with Mimi. In my thirty years as an Episcopalian, I've been fortunate to be part of vital parishes everywhere from rural Kentucky to New York. I knew very little about the larger church, or really cared much, until those matters began to affect me.

    Beautiful windows, by the way.

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  3. A lovely reminder of why we go to church. And, 200 in church of a bleak Sunday in winter is testimony to that. Thanks, Mark.

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  4. Thanks for the memories, Mark. I spent my high school and college years at St. Peter's. I remember those windows, and the others, with great love. I taught Sunday School and played the piano for the Sunday School service in the old parish hall. I played the organ for Christmas and Easter, when Mrs. Albertson was on vacation. St. Peter's is one of those pools of living water, like the chapel at my seminary, to which I return for renewal and refreshment. Your story of today could just as easily be one of my own from my (much!) younger years at Old St. Pete's. Bless you all.

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  5. At another St. Peter's - Salem, MA - I was present for the 10 AM English liturgy, where our youth minister preached. We also learned from Ben about the nearly one dozen children who were preparing to receive Communion at the Spanish liturgy next Sunday. What a morning of blessings.

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  6. Church is so boring. I am glad I left religion for atheism.
    I'm sorry you're all still wasting your time and money on nonsense.

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  7. "Nixon" must have come around just to give atheists a bad name. I'm a skeptic about the doctrines, but these accounts of people coming together for mutual support and community service appeal to me. These aren't the groups using "belief" to sow discord and division. If people are helpful to one another and to their communities, it's not nice to sneer.

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  8. I was very touched by this post, which struck a great chord with me. I am a lay worship leader, currently taking a break to establish a discussion website, layanglicana.org, and I too find it enormously refreshing simply to attend worship as a member of the congregation. I get much more out of services than I did before my training, like T S Eliot, returning to the place where I started and knowing it for the first time. And yes, at such times, the squabbles of the Anglican Communion seem blessedly remote!
    Laura Sykes

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  9. Mark --you made me realize one of the things I must do when I take a month of sabbatical this summer --go to church without my collar on, and just worship.

    Thank you.

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  10. After 20 years in TEC I still tear up regularly during Eucharist, usually when I reach to take someones had for the Lords prayer or when the cup touches my lips at the communion rail. The feeling of acceptance, of oneness, still overwhelms me, and I hope it always will.

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