Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the “mainline church” is irrelevant, and doesn’t know how to speak to today’s culture — even worse, the Spirit has abandoned it.
My family started regularly attending an Episcopal church in November. At the past two services, I’ve witnessed the most kind, loving, and Spirit-filled act I’ve seen in a long time.
Last week, during an Advent service, a little girl (probably between 6–8 years old) was enamored by our pastor as she led the Eucharist. So this little girl simply stood alongside her, and when our pastor lifted the elements to bless them, the girl pantomimed right besides, lifting an invisible wafer and chalice in the air. The girl was our pastor’s shadow up until the moment the pews emptied and the congregants worked their way toward the Lord’s Supper; only then did she rejoin her family.
Our daughter Sophia was completely enamored. It was a touching moment to see. She whispered to my wife and asked if shecould stand beside the pastor next time. She even worked up the courage — which didn’t take much, our daughter’s not as shy as we are — to ask the pastor if she could do stand up with her next time.
Our pastor, the wonderful woman of God she is, said of course.
And our pastor, the wonderful woman of God she is, remembered her promise this morning during the Christmas service.
When we entered the church and took our seats today, the pastor came over and told our daughter she could come up and stand beside her. So today, when the time for communion came, she signaled directly to Sophia, and we gave the soft, it’s-ok-go-ahead nudge parents give, and our little one walked quickly up to the altar.
Even more, our pastor took time in the midst of Communion on one of the highest holy days to ask for a stool for my daughter so she could see the Communion Table better.
And there, on Christmas Day, my daughter looked up at and stood next to a woman of God as she led us all in remembering the whole story of salvation that culminates in a supper, a cross, a death, and an empty tomb. All manner of mysteries that go well beyond reason, but none so lofty they cannot be grasped by a child’s imagination.
My heart swelled with gratitude. Sophia beamed with pride and joy. She walk-ran back to our pew looking so happy. A few moments later, when she was given the elements, our pastor knelt down to give her the bread, and the other Eucharistic ministers knelt to serve her the wine as well.
It was a simple act of kindness, but it spoke volumes. Others may have been less willing to let a child draw so near to such a holy, set-apart ritual — and with valid reason. Communion is a holy thing. But by letting these children draw near, and by letting them participate in their own simple way, our pastor embodied the Spirit and made the ritual even holier.
Jesus has many names and titles, but the one with the most resonance at Christmas is “God with us.” Christmas is when we talk about God “breaking through” and choosing to dwell amongst us. Well, God broke through today in the small, significant, kind actions of our pastor. She proved that God still dwells among and within us, in (the) Spirit.