On a Sunday morning when Peter’s mother lay struggling for breath on a hospice bed in her living room in western New York, we called her Episcopal priest, who came to her between services. He took her hands and assured her she was going from love to love. She visibly let go, and she passed away soon after.
Surrounding her in prayer, our tiny community held off a vast darkness so that she could journey into light. That’s how it struck my heart. For the first time, I saw that God is with us in the dark hour when chaos threatens to overwhelm us. Quite a bit later, after the fear and confusion of 9/11, Peter and I started attending our local Episcopal church, Holy Apostles, and we are still here, though we now live many blocks away, in Washington Heights. Still here and still pledging.
At first, I lurked in the pews. I stumbled along in the Jesus way. I liked men in dresses swinging censers; I loved women priests raising their hands to God. I wept when I saw the soles of the feet of kneelers at the altar rail for Communion—feet of all shapes, all sizes, shoes of all colors and many states of repair. But I feared I would never care enough about the three-in-one nature of God or the Immaculate Conception or other doctrinal matters. I didn’t know when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel. I crossed my arms to be blessed rather than taking Communion. Then one Sunday, a priest said in a sermon about the mustard seed that you didn’t have to bring much to the table. It was enough to be willing to be transformed. As surely as the fisher folk in Galilee turned into fishers of men, I have indeed been slowly transformed—from a “head” person to a “heart” person.
Jesus, from what I can see, left out no-one. All were invited into transforming light. The poorest of the poor were welcomed; women were honored. Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. He touched people with diseases or disabilities, the demon-haunted and devil-possessed. I think Jesus would have liked our Holy Apostles saying: “The Episcopal Church welcomes everyone; Holy Apostles welcomes everyone else.”
We welcome; we feed, reaching out through our soup kitchen and food pantry to those most in need. Our feeding connects us to the hillside near Capernaum where Jesus fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes. This matters. This is what I choose to support with stewardship time and dollars—this and the community we have here—young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, of any and every ethnicity–all of us joining the crystal-throated choir in singing, however rough.
You know, there are churches—some of them Episcopalian—where people sit with mouths shut and do not sing, but we sing out for joy, faith, love and gratitude. Our community is a true gift–one which has been given to us to take care of. That is stewardship to me–taking care of what is in our trust. It is an honor and a privilege to do my part.