December 21, 2011
At the time, I didn’t think much about it. But when we left the church two years later, the woman stood up and shared the story.
On her first visit to the church, she was bewildered. It had been a long time since she sat in a pew – and never in an Episcopal congregation.
I spotted her worry and sat down next to her. Before the service began, I went through the service leaflet and explained different parts. The asterisk means stand up. LEV means this hymnal.
During the peace, I whispered our custom and stayed at her elbow as she shook hands with other members of the congregation. Just before the Eucharist, I explained how all baptized Christians are welcome to receive and told her the dip-or-sip option for partaking the wine. After the service, I stayed with her, through coffee hour, and into introductions to other members of the parish.
When she returned the next Sunday, I could see traces of apprehension, but the fear was gone.
When we accepted a new call and the church held a farewell gathering, she told about that first visit. She was lonely and scared. Despite pleading, her husband wouldn’t come with her to the new church. She knew she was lost.
By someone sitting with her, she felt included. It was the beginning of a connection to something bigger, a different direction for her soul. I didn’t change her life. God did.
But I made room in my worship experience for her. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal then. But in that moment and time, I was her companion in the journey.
On Christmas Eve, there will be many people just like this woman. Lost. Tired. Bewildered. It may have been years since they’ve come to church – or at least since last Easter. Our traditions will be unfamiliar. They may stand when the rest of us are kneeling and fumble through the pages of the blue hymnal when we mean the green one.
On this night, perhaps more than any other, as we celebrate a mighty Savior born in a manger, make room in your own hearts for the stranger, for the wanderer. Come. Sit beside them. Share a hymnal.
Help them find their place in the bulletin. And in God’s church.