When I was a child, I was an acolyte at my church. I remember going to the robing room and putting on my robes. Mostly I remember selecting a cross. That was my favorite part, for my childhood church – which was St. Luke’s Episcopal on the other side of Lake Harriet – had an awesome selection of crosses. They were all shiny silver, and all on purple satin ribbons. They were so beautiful, majestic and simple in their own way.
I always felt so comforted when I selected my cross and put it on. Almost like a child snuggling up in bed with a blanket – I felt protected and cared for. I don’t think I knew why I felt that way. I just felt good.
As I grew, I continued to go to church – attended Sunday School, sang in the choir, came every Christmas Eve with my family – but I don’t think I really knew why I was there. One thing I did know, however, was that my church was a solid rock, always there for me no matter what.
Those little things were the foundation of my faith. They were the bricks upon which my deep faith has been built.
Several years ago I helped lead the Christmas Pageant at St. John’s. In those days the pageant was a full-blown affair with a few dozen kids involved, ages 3 to 16 – with Saturday rehearsals, lines to be memorized, actions to practice and costumes to fit. It was always a chaotic, joyful mess leading up to Christmas Eve. On the day of the pageant I always wondered if we’d really pull it off. And after my first Pageant, I never worried again. It always went wonderfully, with adorable children peeking out of cow and sheep costumes, graceful dancing angels, magnificent shepherds, humble Mary and Joseph holding (a sometimes live!) baby Jesus, and often a funny innkeeper. I learned to say – and to share with those who managed the pageants after my time – “Don’t worry, we’re in a church. Everything will be fine.” Another level was built on my faith foundation.
One of my favorite Sundays at St. John’s is Pilgrim Sunday, the service when the prior summer’s pilgrims tell us about their experiences, through photos and speeches. I cry the entire time. Their personal journeys are so moving, so inspiring, and a big part of why we do so much to support our Pilgrims every year. My faith foundation grows some more.
When COVID hit, I was one of several St. John’s members who offered to call, write and/or email other members to see if they were in need of anything. These “care team” contacts were part functional (do you need help getting groceries?), part pastoral (are you feeling isolated and need some company?) and part spiritual (would you like to share a prayer together?). It was a humbling, life-giving experience to make those contacts – a few of which continued for several months after the care team determined they weren’t needed anymore. Another set of rooms added to my faith structure.
Recently I participated in a pilot program offered to St. John’s by the national church. A dozen of us met weekly on Zoom at 6:30am to discuss a reading, watch a video and talk about what was on our minds. Over the nine weeks of the program, we shared more and more, we asked for personal prayers and we became spiritually connected. Hard as it was to get myself logged in to my computer and able to speak at sunrise for those nine sessions, I always left them feeling better, lighter, more inspired, more soul-filled. Ever higher and stronger went my building of faith.
While I see God in so many things outside of church – the sun breaking through the clouds, a little child playing, the ocean, the love between a daughter and her elderly mother – I recognize and value those things in large part due to the faith foundation that I’ve built through my church experiences and the relationships I’ve built over the years.
While some people have a major life-changing experience that draws them closer to God, I’ve had many small experiences that combine and let me know that God is real, God is here, God is vital. And I thank God, and St. John’s, for every one of them.