A morning full of grace

It was a morning full of grace.

The weekend had taken an entirely different shape than we had planned — and as they say, when humans plan, God laughs — and we were off our stride.  After several days in which I used up all my spoons and even borrowed against the next day, I woke Saturday morning with a low energy level.  We had plans for Saturday, picking up our food order from Angel Food Ministries in the morning, and then heading up to Williamsburg in the afternoon to take part in the Worldwide Photo Walk.  We returned from the church with our food, put it all away, and then noticed the red light blinking on the phone to indicate that a message was waiting for us.

It was the organist from our parish, and he was in the emergency room with a very painful condition.  He wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to be in church this morning, so he asked if maplestar could fill in for him.  We sprang into action.  Maplestar readily agreed to fill in, so I called the organist back to let him know.  Then I called our rector to ask which hymns had been selected and whether there were any services scheduled in the church during the day.  The church was free, so after a quick lunch, we headed up to the church for maplestar to practice.  He sounded wonderful, and even though the pews aren’t all that comfortable for a mobility-challenged little person, I enjoyed the time there, just listening to maplestar’s music in our beautiful colonial worship space.

We returned home with about an hour before we’d planned to head out for the photo walk.  I was out of spoons, and maplestar was low on energy as well.  Disappointed, we decided to stay home and spend the evening relaxing.  After supper, we sat on the couch wondering whether we should try calling the organist again.  Was he still at the hospital?  Was he even able to get to his cell phone?  No, we decided, we didn’t want to intrude.  Within thirty minutes, he had called us back anyway, to let us know that he would be in church in the morning.  Neither maplestar nor I knew quite how to feel.  We were both glad for the organist, because we know how important his spiritual life is for him, and were somewhat relieved that maplestar wouldn’t be on the spot in the morning.  But at the same time, we were disappointed.  We had essentially canceled our plans for the day so that maplestar could practice… and we were excited about the prospect.  I could tell that it meant a lot for maplestar to be behind an organ console again, immersed in sacred music.  He’s so ready to get his work authorization, and I know he relished the opportunity to share his gifts with the parish.

We went to bed fairly early.  I was relieved that I could set my alarm for the late service rather than for the early service, but I shared maplestar’s frustration.  When we woke, we both felt blah.  Maplestar dozed off on the couch a couple times, and I lacked the energy to do much more than kick back on the couch with my book.  Unfortunately, I had three jobs at church this morning, so I knew I needed to conserve my energy.

We left at about 9:15, deciding to have a quick fast-food breakfast on our way to church.  As we were leaving, another couple from the parish saw us there and said hello.  But my first job for the morning was serving as a Greeter — standing at the doors to the church to smile and welcome all who come — so we had to get to the church early.

I was thankful that the other woman who was scheduled as a Greeter arrived just as we did.  Maplestar took our prayerbooks in and grabbed spots in a pew.  It was a lot of fun welcoming people to the church.  There were some we recognized, some we didn’t, and I made sure to smile at everyone.  The woman who was greeting with me struggles with her own chronic, invisible illness; it was so nice to talk with someone else who walks through that neighborhood.  She highly recommended the custom shoes she’d recently gotten, without which she wouldn’t be able to make it through a morning of church, much less serving as a Greeter.  Finally, the opening hymn started, and the cars entering the parking lot slowed to a trickle and then stopped.  We entered the nave, and I sat down with maplestar to join in The Church’s One Foundation.  He was singing the tenor line, so I let my soprano rise above.

As always, the service was beautiful.  We sang some wonderful hymns — of course, we knew in advance that they’d be good! — and the sermon was a very touching one.  It opened with the story of a young couple whose pre-marital counseling was the first appointment on our rector’s calendar, on the first day he reported to his parish in Alabama after being ordained.  The couple was an American man who was marrying a woman from Bogotá, Colombia, and maplestar and I listened with great interest as the rector related the  story of her path to citizenship.  Since maplestar is on his own path to citizenship, this really resonated for us.

After the sermon and the creed came my second job of the morning.  I was scheduled to be the Intercessor, leading the Prayers of the People.  When I first took on this ministry, more than 10 years ago and in another parish, it didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me.  I remembered the Prayers of the People from my childhood as the most boring part of the service, particularly when one certain member of that congregation read them.  I found myself becoming conscious of this part of the liturgy, of the importance of us all gathered in one place, praying for each other and for the whole world.  Within the congregation, we have democrats and republicans, we have gay people and straight people, we have children and parents and grandparents and single persons, we have financial advisors and people in bankruptcy, we have wealthy people and less wealthy people.  And we’re all in one place, praying for God to guide us, to heal us, to take care of us.  All of us.  These days, this is one of the deepest and most meaningful parts of the service for me.

After the Peace, we moved into the Service of the Table.  The Eucharistic Prayer never fails to transport me.  After maplestar and I received, we made our way back to the pew.  My third job for the morning was to take Communion to two of our parishioners who live in a nursing home, and the congregation was almost finished receiving.  I moved to the back of the church to be ready, once the Communion kit had been put together.  The Healing Prayer Minister for the day was praying with one woman, and another was waiting.  Then, someone walked up and took my hands.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, turning to face the gentleman behind her.  “Were you in line for healing prayer?”  He shook his head, and she turned back to me.  “I’d like to pray for my husband,” she began, and told me his need for healing.  I closed my eyes and held her arms and prayed with her, giving her a hug after the “Amen.”  She thanked me and returned to her pew.  With some bemusement, I moved to a place where it wouldn’t seem that I was a Healing Prayer Minister.  Even though I believe very strongly in the power of personal choice, I know that I could not have acted otherwise than I had.  Someone had come to me asking for prayer.  Was I really supposed to turn her away, to point her in the direction of the Healing Prayer Minister who was scheduled for the day?  I could not do that, not and be the person I am.  Even though I was a little antsy, a little uncomfortable at the thought that I might miss my cue to come forward for the Communion kit, I knew that I could not turn away anyone who came to me asking for prayer.

The service ended with Jerusalem, My Happy Home, and we made our way out to the car.  I knew that maplestar was still frustrated from the topsy-turvy weekend, and I offered to take him home rather than dragging him to the nursing home.  He reserved judgment until after lunch, and lunch raised both our spirits.  Since we had about 40 minutes before we were scheduled to be at the home, we did some driving, discovering a street I’d never noticed before and finding a very intriguing old railroad right-of-way that positively begs for us to return with cameras.  After our adventure, we drove to the nursing home.  There, we parked and gathered our service leaflets and church bulletins and printouts of the morning’s sermon.  As we walked up to the entrance, the lady we were scheduled to meet (I’ll call her Angela) was wheeling to the door in her electric wheelchair.

Angela is an amazing woman.  Within the nursing home, she has an active and lively ministry.  For each eucharistic visit, she gathers together a group of friends to join her in prayer and to receive the Body and Blood.  The parish register book shows that visits to her this year have varied from 6 to 10 people.  There are parishes in the more rural areas of this diocese who have attendance at that level at individual services.  Angela has gathered, at her nursing home, what could be a viable and sustainable congregation.

I greeted Angela with real pleasure, glad to be able to spend this time with her.  We walked with her, back to the library, and she invited some friends along the way.  Another member of our parish was already waiting in the library, and Angela brought in a man who is newly blind.  In total, we had 8 people there to take part in the Feast.  It was very moving to bring the bread and the wine to our blind brother; I was careful to touch his hand to let him know I was there, to make sure he had the wafer securely, and I was even more careful with the wine in its teeny-tiny chalice.  When our service was complete, the people there thanked maplestar and me several times.  I said, “You’re very welcome!  It is always a pleasure to come here, and a great privilege.”  As we were making our way out, Angela helped the blind man navigate the hallway to his room.  Maplestar and I headed down the opposite corridor, not wanting to get in their way, and started making for our car.  As we walked down the sidewalk, we heard Angela calling out behind us.  Maplestar and I stopped and walked back to join her.  Angela apologized for not coming out with us, explaining that she was helping, and we nodded in understanding.  She walked us out to the car, thanked us again, and I hugged her good-bye.  We watched her wheel back across the parking lot, until she was safely on the sidewalk.

As we drove back to the church, where I had to clean out and return the Communion kit and note the visit in the parish register, I found myself thinking, there is just no better job in the world than this.  I found myself grinning widely.  In taking God’s Feast to Angela and her friends, I had found myself fed.  This entire day, despite our changed and broken plans, despite our lack of energy, despite our frustration — this day had been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own.

It was a day full of grace.