Rector's Blog: Last Sunday I Stayed Home
I stayed home and watched church on Sunday. I know you probably did too, since there were only 9 people in the building that day. But, y’know: Normally I’m in it. So even when we’re pre-recording and I’m watching on a Sunday, I know I’m gonna see me on that screen at some point, and that’s always a little weird. But not last Sunday. Last Sunday, we streamed live from inside the Sanctuary, and I got to participate as a viewer, to pray and worship and listen and watch, and not worry about anything.
I felt a little like the Grinch, because my heart grew three sizes that day.
The service began with Thomas Heidenreich on the organ. I listened to him bring us into worship and get our hearts and minds ready just to be there with God. I remembered when Brett Scott and I interviewed Thomas. Funny enough it was via videocall, two and a half years ago – before our lives became run by Zoom. I was able to think about how much a part of us Thomas has become, about his sincerity and passion, and of course his talent.
Our Deacon Gary Lubin stood up to read the announcements and officiate the service. Later he said he was nervous, because he never does the announcements, but hearing his voice describe with care the goings-on at Church of the Redeemer brought me such joy. I ran into Gary at Kroger the day after I moved to Cincinnati, and we already recognized each other because he’d friended me on Facebook moments after the church announced my hiring. Last month, we moved houses, and Gary masked up and insisted on helping.
When he sat down, Cynthia Williams stood up to read the Old Testament Lesson. Seeing Cynthia step to the lectern at Redeemer is one of my favorite things. She approaches every reading with the utmost care and delivers with clarity and intention. She was Senior Warden of the Vestry when I first got here (which is Episcopal Church language for saying she ran our Board during the leadership transition). I negotiated my first contract with Cynthia! I have probably been in more meetings with her than any single other member of our church, and I’m grateful for every one of them. We get to call each other friends.
Next came Mark Sesler. He read the New Testament. Mark has the best poker face of anyone I’ve ever met, and he grew a killer beard during the pandemic. Mark is a Lay Eucharistic Visitor – which means that, during more normal times, if someone couldn’t come to church on a Sunday because of illness or immobility, Mark would bring them communion, pray with them, visit with them, and make sure they were heard and cared for. When I think of Mark, I think of him standing on the opposite side of the altar on a Sunday, poker-facing me and taking the home communion kit from my hands so he can share God’s love with those who need it most. He read from Romans last Sunday, exactly the reading I needed to hear.
Liz Clemons sang a song, and it was beautiful. I got coffee with Liz when she was first checking out the Episcopal Church. Two years later, I officiated her wedding, and sponsored her and her wife Lisa for confirmation. And now she’s part of the team! She embodies faithfulness in everything she does and being around her makes me want to be better and try harder. But Sunday I just got to hear her sing and I found Jesus there.
Then Joyce got up and preached. My kids call her Mother Joyce, because I’m old school like that. She seems not to mind. Last month I had to put my dog down. I was sitting in the parking lot of Mt. Lookout Animal Hospital after having spoken with the Vet, knowing I had to make a decision about this pet we’d had for over 11 years. I was on the phone with my wife talking it over and ugly crying. And who drove into the parking lot and parked right next to me? Joyce. She did not know I’d be there or what was going on – she just had an appointment for her dog. (Sometimes God isn’t messing around.) But she saw me, and smiled, and then she saw my tears, and she pastored to me. We talked everything over, and when we were done, I knew what I had to do.
Joyce preached on that Romans reading Mark had read, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” Paul said, and Joyce built on this and helped me believe it this Sunday. I was on the online chat for the live-stream, and several of us typed “Amen!” at the same time. We all needed to hear Jesus speak to us through Joyce that day.
It was time to pray, and Robin Henderson got up to lead us. Robin is a high school teacher on the West Side, and I have not even had the opportunity to talk with her about how this year is going so far, about the challenges and fears and opportunities and joys she is experiencing trying to teach in this pandemic. She invited me to talk at Career Day at her school once, and I got to see her in her element, got to see her caring for her students, showing them how much they matter. She doesn’t talk about justice – she lives it. It’s a calling. As is leading our church in prayer, and Robin is certainly called to both.
Elizabeth and John Grover played the postlude. I miss seeing them in the back of the chapel during the Celtic service. They play together like they share life together: You can hear the mutuality, affection, and respect for each other in the song just like you see it when you’re with them. I dare you to find a better smile at Redeemer than John’s. With some people, it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a mask, because you can see them smile with their eyes. John has a smile like that. Speaking of masks, Elizabeth made well over 300 of them for the church. Her commitment to this community is legendary at this point, but she continues to find new ways to inspire those around her – myself included.
When I talk about relationships at Church of the Redeemer, this is what I’m talking about. It’s not abstract or hypothetical for me. I am changed by the people with whom I share community. They help me see Jesus. They help me see myself. They help me recognize my belovedness, my belonging, my beauty. They give me eyes for the Kingdom so that God’s presence is manifest, is obvious in this world. This pandemic has been so hard for us. And we’re not through it yet. But seeing these people standing in the space that contains so many of our hopes and dreams and prayers, it reminded me of what matters. Redeemer has helped so many of us get through difficult times. This church is part of us now.
These are a few of my stories. This is where I saw Love this week. This is where I saw Jesus. If you’re reading this, I know you have stories too, maybe some of the same people are in your stories. Maybe you’re new to Church of the Redeemer. Maybe you don’t know many people. This is what you have in store for you. A community rooted and grounded in love, relationships that will change the way you experience the life you’ve been given. Our hope is that these relationships will connect us in a time of isolation, will unite us in a time of division. Our hope is found in the Love we build here, and this week my heart is full.
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