Our Wonderful Webmasters have asked me to share a story that mostly lives in my head and heart. I’ve only tried to tell it out loud a couple of times, once to my wife and once in a meeting.
The meeting was during my elder training, which for many Presbyterians is the one time we get down ‘n’ dirty with our Books of Order and Confessions. I know I’m not the first elder-elect to spend a few hours with that material and think: wow, am I supposed to believe ALL of this? Can I stand in the front of the church and say this all works for me?
I found myself thinking about what I could say for sure was at the core of my faith, what I COULD say I really believed, and that led me to sharing this experience:
Easter Morning, 2010. The church had that extra Easter buzz going, you can feel it. I helped out in children’s Sunday School, then down to the basement for choir rehearsal. We practiced one of Doug’s great introits: Jesus said to her, “Mary”. She turned to him and said “Rabboni! Rabboni! Rabboni!” The chords build stunningly on those repetitions. Then up to the mosh pit to check in with the boys, and on up to the balcony for a little breather while Carla made announcements. Then as she is winding down and we are standing to sing, Carla says, “Lastly, we received word that Estelle McCarthy died this morning…”. You can read more about Estelle here, but suffice it to say she was an amazing lady, a beloved member of our congregation, and a spirited singer. We fellow choir members knew of her illness, but many of us were only now hearing of her passing. So in that brief moment, we were processing the news and collecting ourselves, and then we began to sing:
Jesus said to her, “Mary”. She turned to him and said “Rabboni! Rabboni! Rabboni!”
As the music did that amazing build, I was overtaken with an image of Estelle, and Jesus calling her by name. And she turns toward him – she turns away from her long, dedicated, faithful, engaged life here – she turns because he is calling her to this new place, to home – she turns to him, and of course she recognizes him, given a lifetime of faithfulness. That image was so full, clear, and true. And it came to me there in our sanctuary, in the context of our worship and our music and our caring for each other – how much more powerful an image and feeling could I handle?
At my core, I find, is faith fed by experience: years of church, of familiar patterns and traditions, of the opportunity to be near saints like Estelle, of occasional fleeting but radiant glimpses of where we’re headed. I think our Books of Order and Confessions and even our Bible were written by folks as their best expressions of experiential faith. I’m helped in thinking that a lot of the writing therein is human extrapolations of The Big Stuff – and I believe The Big Stuff, because on occasion it shows up in front of me.
(Alfred is a child of GPPC who now brings his own children here. He joined GPPC in 1966, left us for a bit, and returned in the ’80’s as a young adult. Alfred recalls rotary dial phones in the church office, which makes his sense of history and interaction with GPPC pretty significant.)