Memory #5-The Church

How odd, I thought, reading over the memories I’ve inflicted on you in the past 4 weeks. There hasn’t been a word about the Parish Hall, that exciting joint effort of Susan Rochelle and Pete Cichonski where so much of St. Thomas’ life goes on today.

No remembering the ground breaking ceremony, when tiny Bradley Doerr, with some assistance of his father, dug the first hole. No mention of that moment when, holding our breath, we broke through the window by the organ and connected St. Thomas’ to the 20th century.

All I seemed to talk about were people.

Working with the Communion classes over the years, I’d start with the same exercise, asking the children to draw a picture of the church. Every time, they would labor over their project, making sure that the windows had the proper amount of panes, and the door was in the right place. Then, dramatically, with a bright red magic marker, I’d cross out their carefully executed drawings, and write a large NO! ” This is the Church,” I’d write on a big piece of newsprint, and then we’d begin to fill up the page with stick figures. The lesson, I hope, became clear. The Church is people.

One of the perks of being St. Thomas’ Rector—and I’m sure Carol agrees– is the experience of often being alone in the church, sitting in a pew and simply being in the space. But I often felt not so much alone as sharing their surroundings with many others, including those who, well over 200 years ago, made this their spiritual home. I wondered about them. How did the congregation comfort the Pickle family, whose little children lie there in a row, out beyond the altar window? How did the congregation deal with the political upheaval in the 1770s that must have divided them, far worse than that which divides us today? What did they discuss after the services, before they mounted their horses or climbed in their wagons for the ride back to their farms?

Perusing the 1669 English Prayer Book, which would have been used here before the Revolution, I found the Ash Wednesday service. It’s called “A Commination, or Denouncing of God’s Anger and Judgment against Sinners, to be used on the First Day of Lent.” It’s a grim liturgy, heavy on ‘the dreadful judgment hanging over our heads always ready to fall upon us.” Did the darkness of those words speak to the harshness of the conditions in which they lived? I

am thankful that, for all the sober and honest assessment of our shortcomings in our modern liturgy, its note of grace and forgiveness sends us out with resolve, not fear, to begin the observance of the holy Lent.

We have prayed together in this special place, our forbearers from centuries past, our patriarchs and matriarchs from recent times, our children—some grown now, with children of their own, our own very local saints whose faith determined that our doors would stay open wide for others to come in. This is the Church. The church is people, and I am so very grateful that I have been a part of the people of St. Thomas’.