My family has lived in eastern Pennsylvania for the last ten generations. Nearly 250 years. My wife is always shaking her head because no matter where we go it seems we meet someone who is a great-aunt, friend of my grandparents, or third-cousin once removed.
“So how do you know that person?” she asks after they walk away.
“You know so-and-so?” I ask. She nods. “That’s so-and-so’s brother’s mom’s sister. Remember that family?”
“Oh, yes,” she says in a deadpan voice. “How could I have forgotten.”
It’s a unique place, but it is also a place that gives me a strong sense of who I am, a deep sense of belonging.
* * * * *
For the last five months or so we’ve attended St. James Episcopal church on the corner of Orange and Duke Street in downtown Lancaster. We started going there because after we moved into the city some friends invited us, and then we kept going there because it’s within walking distance, they have a wonderful children’s program, and there’s something about these old traditions that feels like a balm to my over-stimulated, until-now-Evangelical-church-attending soul.
We also like the fact that anyone seeking God can take communion, and just this past week a woman gave the sermon and led the service. In my opinion, both of these are sorely lacking in the Evangelical community in our county.
But what I really love is the quiet. The stillness. There are moments of silence, for one thing, times when everyone just stops and waits. During the prayers. Just after the sermon. There’s something powerful about the liturgy, about asking for forgiveness every week, about reaffirming what I believe. There’s something wonderful, groundbreaking even, about taking communion as a family every single week, of watching Cade and Lucy reverently take the wafer and dip it into the wine.
“The Body of Christ.”
“The Blood of Christ.”
I walk back the side aisle, the taste of wine still lingering, and I am impacted again with the depth of this death, the completeness of this resurrection.
* * * * *
My ancestors would probably have serious issues with me attending an Episcopal church. After all, it was the high church Protestants of their day who were chasing them around the countryside, demanding that they either baptize their infants or burn at the stake. As is heartbreakingly common throughout the church’s history, this policy had more to do with politics, money, and control than any sincerely held religious beliefs, but there you have it. Anabaptists were dismembered, burned at the stake, hung…you get the picture.
Now I take communion within a tradition and a way of doing church very similar to the one that hunted down my ancestors.
I think, I hope, that they would understand that the main reason we go to St. James is that we find Christ there. The leadership gives us the space we need during the service to encounter Jesus, to reflect on our week, our weaknesses. Each time our family crowds into one of those box pews, it is a reaffirmation of this path we have chosen.
Eternal God and Father,
by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed:
guide and strengthen us by your Spirit,
that we may give ourselves to your service,
and live this day in love to one another and to you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
* * * * *
It’s been cold these last few weeks when we walk to church. The kids get bundled up in their coats and wool hats and I walk down with the older four while Maile feeds Leo at the house – the two of them come down later, Leo strapped into a baby carrier, Maile using him for his warmth. I leave the kids at the chapel where they have choir for a half hour, and I walk down to Square One Coffee to get something warm to drink. Sometimes Miguel, the guy with all the keys, will ask me to carry empty coffee pots down with me, and I happily oblige.
There is something holy about walking down an early-morning, mostly empty city street on a cold Sunday, your breath bursting from your lungs as you head towards church. There’s something weighty about entering a hundreds-year-old church just as the adult choir is finishing their morning practice, their voices ringing through the stained glass.
Thy Kingdom come
Thy Will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven