Last week was abuzz with activity around the church building. One of those activities was carried out by two really nice guys from Long Electric, Nate and Clint, who brought a lift into the sanctuary and worked for two days replacing all the light bulbs in those fixtures. My inner seven-year-old was curious about their work so I found some priestly excuses to be in the sanctuary from time to time. And I watched them.
They worked quietly, almost meditatively. There was something beautiful about the care and gentleness in their work. I mean, I know they were handling fragile, really expensive bulbs. But in the quiet, and in that space, it felt…I don’t know…holy.
Nate and Clint finished up late Wednesday. As I stood in the sanctuary, with all those beautiful lights, the space felt transformed. It is radiant! The church is full of light!
In the Episcopal Church we speak of sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857) As I stood in the sanctuary Wednesday I was struck by the sacramental nature of the light bulbs – outward signs pointing toward something holy and timeless.
We speak of the church building, but we also know the Church is you and me and all God’s people around the world. It is made up of saints who have gone on to glory and of saints as yet unborn. The outward sign is just light bulbs – sacraments usually are made of common things like water, bread and wine, after all. The inward grace to which those bulbs point is the reality that yes, the Church is full of light! YOU are full of light! And yes, these bulbs will burn out eventually. But they point toward that Light that has come into the world, that shines in the darkness, and which darkness cannot overcome. (John 1:5)
The way we interact with our building impacts our spiritual lives as individuals and as a group. It also impacts the spiritual life of our neighborhood. Our building gives us a place to gather, but it gives us much more. If we will let it, it also talks to and teaches us about God. It takes money to care for our building and, you have to admit, that doesn’t initially seem very interesting or spiritual. But oh what wonderful stories that care for our building can tell us and the people around us about God!
Thank you Nate and Clint for changing out the bulbs. Thank you, you who donated money to buy the bulbs and you who give regular offerings, for telling us the old, old story of that Light once more. Thank you Tom Pizzuti, Pete Tinsley and anyone who has been on the vestry for your holy, sacramental work caring for our building.
Now get out there and shine!
Like most weeks, I arrived this past Sunday morning just before seven and entered the building down by the parish hall. One does need coffee, after all. And when I did, I was greeted by an amazing smell. Mind you, I’d already had breakfast, so I wasn’t even hungry. But, oh my, I was ready to eat whatever was on offer right then and there. It smelled incredible! The trouble was, no one was around. No food either. This, of course, made me sad. Then I remembered we had rented the parish hall the previous evening to an Indian family. It seems there was a birthday to be celebrated. And then I realized it. What I was enjoying was the smell of welcoming and serving our neighbors. And it was that much more delicious.
The two most quickly-growing demographic groups in Carmel are Indian and Chinese. Ten years from now, Carmel is going to look browner, sound different, and have some amazing cross-cultural facets thanks to our immigrant neighbors.
About a year ago, I had lunch with Ms. Lalita Haran. Ms. Haran is an immigration lawyer here in town, and I wanted to spend time with her listening. I was curious to know the needs of immigrants in Carmel. I was assuming they aren’t food, clothing and shelter, and I was right. The vast majority of immigrants who come to Carmel are highly educated professionals. With really great jobs. And nice cars. So what do they need? Ms. Haran’s answer surprised me.
“They need friends.”
As someone who has lived as an expatriate, I knew right away what she meant. Frankly, it was something of a forehead-slap moment. No matter how smart or rich you are, moving to a new country strips you of all kinds of competencies and securities – things you otherwise take for granted. Fortunate is the foreigner in any land who has a friend to show her the ropes, to explain the seemingly random and senseless cultural rules in this new place (no, it isn’t polite to ask someone how much they weigh or how much money they make, fine as that might be back home). What is a “library card”? Why are there so many kinds of salad dressing in the store? How does my child get to do American Baseball?
“They need friends.”
St. Christopher’s is a very friendly place. We even identify that friendliness as a gift of ours. Theologian Frederick Buechner famously wrote, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” He was speaking of individuals, but couldn’t that also apply to a congregation? We are friendly. Our neighbors need friends. Hmm.
There are other intersections like this one. We just don't know what they are yet. What if we created some opportunities to listen to our neighbors – listen specifically for what they need and how we can give to them? What if we listened without any preconceived idea of what the answers should be? I am so curious to know what we might hear. Whether is it a place to celebrate a birthday, a friend and interpreter of our culture, or anything else, we are here to serve. How will we do that?