I sat alone in a small Anglican country church yesterday morning, a church outside my Evangelical experience in many ways, and yet the same. The gathering was intimate with less than 50 people of all ages. There was a raw celebratory nature to the scripture readings, prayers and congregational responses, and a contrast between the darkly translucent shroud over the Lord’s table and the minister’s white robes.
I was drawn to look at the back of the old wooden pew in front of me, and I saw there in pencil two names and a date, 1934, with no attempt to remove it, no attempt to cover it up. A sense of the rootedness and historical context of this particular church grew strong within me. The arched windows of the church opened up to the fields beyond, the creek with its long lines of poplars just leafing into whispy greenness, the fields prepared for planting and irrigating. I began to cry, sensing my life of faith opening up and bringing me to a new and unusual place of belonging, yet not quite belonging. And sensing God’s presence in spite of my wandering.
We sang old hymns I knew by heart, parts coming back to me from my Church of God childhood, my descant voice leaking from my lips like an old language I have not forgotten. And all else that leaked in those moments, the memories of being left out, a girl pricking me with a pin in the back row of my childhood church, the never being asked on a date by a church boy… ever, being an elder’s daughter and what needs be borne in this unique role, and finally, all the eyes and backs of those who had loved me my whole life turning away when I was excommunicated for marrying outside the faith, for marrying a good Catholic boy.
Yet, here I was, so many years later and drawn to some of the very things I have not experienced since my childhood, a small group of believers gathered around an altar in solemn and sacred remembrance, sharing a hymn sheet, the immediate sense of community, how the minister knew my name after only one visit, and blessed me, and hugged me. And how it feels to sit in a simple wooden pew and hear it creaking beneath me when I adjust my position, stand up for the holy scripture readings and sit to pray.
The liturgy is new to me, but comforting in its wholeness, what is known and what is carried out. The call upon the people to speak aloud at specific times and in specific ways is engaging. There are commonalities here, and a sense of coming full circle to where I first began only in a completely different way. The doctrine remains as yet unpacked, and the questions on certain topics as yet unanswered. All in due time.
May your Easter be blessed by the knowledge of God’s presence and peace no matter your circumstance or location. God is love. God is.