If you receive a Christmas card letter from me, you’ll notice that today’s post is based on this year’s letter. Be sure to listen to the music at the end of this post; it’s something that I didn’t include in the letter.
We’ve missed so much during the pandemic. People, most of all, of course, but we’ve also missed activities and events.
I miss places and the one that really tugs at my heart is my church. Yes, I realize that people make up what’s really the church and that St. James’ the building simply houses one particular group of God’s children.
But St. James’ is a sacred space for me. My son Tim’s baptism was held there; 22 years later so was his funeral. My mind brings forth the faces of the children I’ve taught there over the years. I have fond memories of my own children growing up in the church, attending choir practice and other events. The baptisms, weddings, and funerals I’ve attended roll like film credits in my head.
I’ve been stirred to action and inspired to be a better human being through teachings and sermons. I have been entertained by not just fantastic choirs but musical ensembles and amazing organists. I have laughed and cried there. And while there during troubled times, I have certainly felt love surround me.
One especially poignant moment was when my dying friend Jonathan sat beside me in the empty church. He could not take his eyes from the stained glass above the altar; Jesus’ ascension into Heaven seemed to transfix him.
Our congregation missed Easter inside the church and now we’ll miss Christmas there as well. Our Diocese carefully considers the health and safety of our parishioners and has courageously deemed meeting inside is not in our best interests. For several months we held weather-permitting outdoor services, but sadly, that too is off-limits now.
When we held services in the church parking lot, there were no stained-glass windows. The quiet was broken by voices and laughter from a popular nearby walking trail. Instead of hymns, we heard pop or country music leaking out from the cars driving by. But still, each member, bundled up and masked and sitting in lawn chairs we brought from home, waved and smiled with our eyes at the passing of the peace.
Our church’s governing body recognized the people’s longing for our sacred space. By appointment, individually we can go inside the church to sit, pray, or reflect.
I went in one day recently. I felt pure contentment as I settled onto a pew. After a while, I walked around trying to see the old church with new eyes. When I came to a pew resplendent with color as the sun shone through a stained-glass window, I took it as a reminder of the angelic message to shepherds watching their flocks by night.
“Fear not, for I have good news for you. Even in these dark hours, the glory of the Lord shines brilliantly through in the form of a baby who is Christ the Lord, the Messiah.”
God loves you and will always love you, no matter what. Above all else, know this: You are loved.
In years past, our Christmas Eve midnight mass ended in candlelight with the choir and congregation singing this blended hymn. Christmas blended hymn of Night of Silence and Silent Night by St. Olaf Choir, Minnesota