Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Rooted in Worship

Grace Episcopal Church
Madison, NJ

The Messenger
February 2012

Rooted in Worship

I have had a wonderful first few months back at Grace Church! It’s been a time of unpacking (with, unfortunately, still more boxes waiting) and a time to re-immerse myself into parish life. It has been a great joy to be with you again – to pray and worship together, to work the line at the Community Soup Kitchen, to hang out at the Men’s Breakfast each Friday at the Bagel Chateau, to enjoy good food and drink and even better fellowship at social events, to begin a new Confirmation class, and so much more.

It’s been a joyful time and, frankly, it’s also been a strange time. It’s rare for a priest to return to a parish. For that matter, it’s unusual to move back into a house after being gone for about 15 months. When Sue and I were moving back into Surrey Lane a neighbor came over and introduced himself and pointed across the street to his house. When I told him that I remembered him, he exclaimed, “It is you – you are the same people! That’s never happened before!”

Before I came back I wondered how much the church might have changed during our time away. And I wondered Рto use the clich̩ Рif it really would be possible to come home again.

As for changes, of course there is the obvious and sad absence of parishioners who died during the months I was away. Preaching on the Feast of the Holy Name (January 1) I observed how Grace Church had suffered some especially painful losses in the preceding year, including Joe Adamczyk, John Cassidy, Bill Foster, Larry Taber and Phyllis Hendry. All of them - each in their own way - contributed so much to our life together and are so dearly missed.

In addition to those who died, there are some who moved away because of family obligations or to pursue new opportunities. And, sadly, there are some who discerned that the next steps of their faith journey meant leaving our community. Although we are all poorer for their absence, we continue to be blessed by the gifts they shared while they prayed and sang and served with us.

Then there are the many new parishioners who have arrived since I left in August, 2010 – and visitors and seekers who are continuing to discover us week after week. I’m starting to make progress, but there are so many names to learn! I’m impressed and pleased by how many have already gotten involved beyond coming to church. Some are attending Graceful Gatherings, or joining the choir, or attending First Friday potluck suppers, or participating in our many programs for children. This blast of newcomer energy and enthusiasm was made manifest a few weeks ago when I called up a relatively new parishioner asking for a favor. Without hesitation she said, “Oh, I’d do anything for Grace Church!”

Of course, there have been other changes. Some programs have run their course while new offerings keep popping up on the calendar. However, the core of Grace Church remains very much the same.

I remember when I first interviewed with Lauren for the position of curate back in the spring of 2007. After she described all the vibrant ministries that went on here, I asked her why she thought Grace was so healthy and thriving when so many other churches – including churches in similar communities – were withering on the vine. She said she believed it was the daily services offered here – day after day we gather to offer our prayers and our worship. She chalked up Grace Church’s health to the daily worship that “bathes” our church in prayer – the daily worship symbolizing that the Christian life is not just something we do for an hour (give or take!) on Sunday.

We remain rooted in worship. Sometimes our worship is a tiny congregation – or even a congregation of one – at Evening Prayer, bearing the gift and responsibility of praying on our behalf. Sometimes our worship is the Wednesday Eucharist when we pray for God’s healing power of love. Sometimes our worship is the Thursday Eucharist when a faithful group of friends gathers for prayer and fellowship. And sometimes our worship is a large Sunday morning service filled with gorgeous music, lifting us beyond ourselves and helping us glimpse the presence of God.

I’ll close with this quote from Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace. It sums up how I feel about being back home here with all of you, rooted in worship: “We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us his own.”