A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Hymn Text, for the Holy Trinity

Loving Creator, our source and our end,
Ruling eternity, close as a friend,
Author, Inventor, your image we bear:
Nearer we’re drawn to you with each act of prayer.

Jesus our Savior, you took human form,
Born in humility, risking our harm:
Be our example in all that we do.
Lead us to imitate your way good and true.

Life-giving Spirit, protector and guide,
Gift to God’s people, be e’er at our side,
Leading, inspiring the Church on our way,
God’s presence with us as we live day by day.

Trinity blessed, the great Three in One:
Father most holy, with your risen Son,
Joined with the Spirit, in union we see
Proof of your love for us, adored One in Three.

Tune: Slane
                                                           ©Cynthia J. Hallas

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Night Shift

I was talking with a friend recently, and the conversation drifted to the topic of circadian rhythms, shift work, and the need for sufficient rest. All of this, in turn, called to my sometimes irreverent mind the following unrelated yet curiously parallel texts:

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Office of Compline in The Book of Common Prayer (p. 134):

Hello there, buddy on the nightshift. I hope you slept all day
Until the moon came out and woke you up and sent you on your way.
Hello there, buddy on the nightshift. I hope you're feeling fine.
I left a lot of work for you to do on a long assembly line.
I wish I knew you better, but you never go my way,
For when one of us goes on the job, the other hits the hay.
Goodbye now, buddy on the nightshift, and push those planes along,
And when the sun comes out, I'll take your place, all wide awake and strong.
I'll follow you, you'll follow me, and how can we go wrong?
Words by Oscar Hammerstein II (set to the music of Kurt Weill)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunday Evening: In the Wake of One More

At the end of this morning’s liturgy, I concluded our parish announcements by saying how weary I am of the daily and weekly reports of violence; how tired I am of each week adding the victims of yet another mass killing to the Prayers of the People – not because I don’t want to pray for them, of course, but because these terrible events dictate that I have to. We have to. But it all leaves me exhausted. And this week there have been so many: a playground in Chicago, the Washington Naval Yard, the shopping mall in Nairobi.

Then this afternoon came the news of the attack on All Saints’ Anglican Church in Peshawar. Scores are dead; many, many more are injured. Mass shootings by mentally disturbed or vengeful individuals may not be regarded in the same way as are terrorist attacks by extremists (of any variety) – the motives, and often the methods are very different. But the results are not different at all – lives extinguished, families and communities forever changed, loved ones left in shock and mourning, first responders strained to the limit, and a world once again struck by the horror of it all and perhaps, wondering how much more humanity can bear. Or, maybe, just numb. The unthinkable has become far too ordinary.
So I sit in front of the TV, switching back and forth among the Emmys (Glitz! Glamour! Awards for shows I’ve never seen!), Sunday Night Football (da Bears beating the “Stillers”!) and “Last Tango in Halifax” (it’s on PBS! And it’s got Derek Jacobi, for heaven’s sake!). What I feel isn't guilt; I'm just not quite comfortable in my – comfort.
Tucson, Toronto, Aurora, Newtown, Washington, Chicago, Nairobi, Peshawar….Kyrie eleison.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Sunday Morning Improv

On the second Sunday of each month, our parish has a liturgy that’s more relaxed than our normally traditional one. The choir, which is usually robed and sitting upstairs in the loft, doesn’t vest and sits downstairs with the congregation. Instead of Christian formation beforehand, we have a breakfast. Often (though not always) we wait until Second Sunday to try new things. And I’ve been trying to find less formal and more interactive ways of unpacking the lections for the day.

Yesterday my congregation and I embarked on a new kind of scriptural exploration in this first Second Sunday liturgy of the new program year. I’ve labeled it “Sunday Morning at the Improv”, which might not be totally accurate but is nonetheless a catchy-sounding title. Unlike the usual one-person pulpit sermon – which I am resisting the urge to call “stand-up”, though it often feels that way, humorous or not – this effort involves everybody (or at least the portion of “everybody” willing to speak up).
I decide in advance which of the readings we’ll focus on, but I don’t tell the congregation until the sermon time begins. I then ask what words or phrases stand out to them in that particular passage. The idea is to take the first three or so suggestions, although Jesus’ use of the word “hate” in yesterday’s gospel pretty much knocked out everything else.

And then we began. What did they want to know? I asked. What comments did they have? They really got into it. Did Jesus really mean “hate” or is that hyperbole? What if he really meant it? He couldn’t have meant it, not the Jesus we know. Is this a judgment on those who choose not to follow Jesus, or just a warning to those who do that they’ve got to be in 110%? What’s this got to do with building construction and armies? We even compared the message of this gospel to the use of the sorting hat in the Harry Potter series. I was prepared to guide the conversation and did so when necessary. I expect about 25% of those present – including some fairly new members and youth – offered at least one comment or question.

When time was running out I reminded them that we were ending, but not necessarily concluding, and encouraged them to give it more thought when they got home. I could tell they liked it, even those who chose not to speak up.
If there’s a fourth wall in the church, it’s nowhere more evident than in the way most sermons are delivered. I think members of a congregation like to know that their clergy value their thoughts on scripture, and trust their insights. I believe it’s good for people who share a worship space on Sunday mornings (or any other time, for that matter) to know that we trust what they believe and think and have to say. And it’s good for them to hear from one another. I don’t intend to give up the more traditional sermon style – as I said, this is once a month - but so often, as a preacher, I look out at the faces in the congregation and wonder if I’m doing all I can to help them engage with the wonderful story of our faith. It’s both good and fun to see them doing that with one another.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Gospel of Risk Aversion

Then after waiting two days to go to Bethany Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the religious authorities were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us stay behind; we would not want to risk dying with him.” And his fellow disciples agreed to stay behind. 
(not-John 11:7-10, 14-16)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Teach Us to Pray

Whenever those first verses of Luke’s eleventh chapter come ’round in the Sunday lectionary, as they do this week (and at other times, as well) I find myself wondering if the Lord’s Prayer has lost its power for us. It’s so familiar; most of us could recite it (the “traditional” version, at least) in our sleep. We argue about “debts” versus “trespasses”, over how many “evers” should be said at its conclusion, and over the afore-mentioned traditional version as opposed to the contemporary form introduced in recent years. It’s comfortable; saying it makes us feel good and probably safe as well. But the truth is that every Sunday, just before we break the bread in anticipation of being fed at God’s holy table, we offer up a manifesto of the Kingdom, and ask God to help us live into those holy habits that will help us transform the world in God’s name. Some thoughts on the prayer Jesus taught us:

“Father, hallowed be your name.”  In addressing God as “father” we claim an intimacy with God that speaks of a loving and yet authoritative relationship.  Jesus called God “Father”; he bids us, as God’s beloved children, do the same.  At the same time we establish intimacy in that relationship, we also acknowledge the holiness of God – hallowed be your name – and we acknowledge the fact that we expect God to live up to that (much as Abraham does in Genesis 18:20-32, the Hebrew passage that accompanies this pericope in the alternate RCL cycle); we expect that God will be God.  We hear it throughout the Hebrew scriptures – God’s name is holy – so holy that it cannot be said or written in its entirety.  God’s immanence and God’s transcendence are reflected in one short petition.
“Your kingdom come.”  God’s will and God’s desire for ourselves and our relationships, for our communities, for our world, becomes our desire as well.  In praying this petition we acknowledge that we will try to structure our lives according to God’s rule, God’s way.  In asserting that God’s kingdom, that is God’s sovereignty and ultimate fulfilling of the divine purpose for all of creation is paramount, we also commit to being partners in that fulfillment.
“Give us each day our daily bread.”  The people who heard Jesus would have understood daily as meaning either ‘that day’ or possibly ‘tomorrow’.  First century peasants were not prone to worrying about the long-term future; just getting through this day and the next was enough.  But this might also be taken to mean ‘give us what we need’.  What if we sincerely and faithfully asked God only for what we need, and no more?  Might we begin to be satisfied with that, and no more?  In a world where the privileged – and that includes us - demand and usually get near-instant gratification, how would that shift the balance of have and have-not?  What would our world look like if we who have so much were content only with what we need – not just in terms of material commodities and food but emotional goals as well - knowing that in God’s abundance everyone’s needs, including our own, were being met?  A huge number of world crises could be solved right quick if that were our reality. 
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  (Do we?  In our better moments, at least, I suppose we try.)  God is a forgiving God.  God is a merciful God.  And God has entrusted us, as the Church, with the ministry of reconciliation and justice.  When we say that we forgive everyone indebted to us (and Jesus does say everyone) it means forgiving the hurt inflicted on us by others, repented of or not; it means letting go of grudges, ‘justified’ or not; it means that we live free of the notion that others ‘owe us big time’.  There was a common understanding that if one had wronged another person, he or she was in that person’s debt until repayment could be made or retribution exacted.  In many cases a monetary debt was the wrong.  That’s how we get the word ‘debt’ for ‘sin’ and why rich nations are often entreated to help struggling ones by issuing ‘debt forgiveness’.  It’s difficult if not impossible to live in the light of God’s forgiveness of us if we cannot share and show that forgiveness to others.  Letting go of anger and resentment – the debts others owe us - is tremendously freeing.  Once again, think how the world would look – individually, communally, corporately, nationally, internationally – if we would learn to live that way.  Another huge number of world crises might just disappear if we did that.

“And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   Finally, we ask God to help us live lives that are free of anything that will tempt us away from God and God’s ways, not because God is prone to ‘lead us into temptation’ but because only with God’s help can we live a life that is free of selfishness, despair, violence, un-righteous anger and all those things that, in the words of our Baptismal liturgy, ‘draw us from the love of God’, and keep us from being heralds of the Good News of the kingdom.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"It's OK to Talk!"

A few days ago a friend shared an article from Gramophone. Rebecca Hutter discusses her recent experience at “MusicUpClose” a classical series that allows the (rather small) audience to sit close to the performers and observe in a way not possible given the seating in the standare concert hall. At the conclusion of a piece the conductor offered comments, then facilitated an audience Q & A.  Hutter reports that audience members were eager to inquire and to remark on a broad range of topics about the composition, the instruments, the acoustics, and their own emotional response. She noted that often the only way to learn anything about concert repertoire is to read the program notes. As a musician I’m aware that such notes are often geared to those who already know a good bit about composers, style, performance practices, etc. and may not answer the kinds of basic questions that some audience members might have – in other words, “if you have to ask, maybe this music isn’t for you.” That may be a harsh assessment, but the performance organization looking to attract a newer, younger, fresh audience should be careful about what kind of assumptions it makes and should be eager to educate that potential audience.

While the idea of interactive concerts is new to the classical scene, and certainly would not be appropriate in every case, more and more orchestral, chamber, and operatic enterprises are experimenting with such experiences with their audiences. Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “Beyond the Score” offers multi-media background explanations of the pieces chosen for the series. Lyric Opera of Chicago’s offers pre-opera lectures. Lyric has also engaged with the social, political, and cultural aspects of some of their productions, including John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, an opera about Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project (what were the long-term effects of the Project on the people who participated, as well as on the world going forward); and Jerome Kern’s Showboat (how the performers responded to the show’s treatment of the difficult issues of racial segregation and inequality in their historical context). (Lyric has also recently partnered with The Second City comedy troupe to engage a larger audience, but that’s a subject for another time.)
Hutter isn’t attempting to draw conclusions about whether discussions during a concert are “right or wrong, or helpful or unhelpful”. I don’t think anyone wants to see an audience member or conductor interrupt a piece in the middle for a comment (“wasn’t that a great use of the chromatic medient!?”), but the format of the concert she attended seems ideal: present the piece uninterrupted, then allow time for reflection and response after.
And that has me wondering, as a priest, preacher, and liturgical leader: what can we in the church learn from this approach? I sometimes present interactive sermons, posing questions and asking for opinions and reflection on the scriptural text. I’ve asked people to study the text ahead of time, and sometimes even posed pre-Sunday reflection questions. It’s not that I don’t respect the authority of the pulpit, or the fact that some people really want a fully scripted, formal sermon (and for good or ill that’s what they get, more often than not) but hearing from the congregation can be a good thing for all concerned. I also do an instructed Eucharist (in which the communion service is punctuated in appropriate places by theological and liturgical explanations) each year, and I have always relied on a script that is read (by me or someone else). Never once have I asked for questions from the congregation. Well, duh! That’s going to change this year.
So what do you think about interactive, instructional concerts and/or liturgies? Is it appropriate for the concert hall, or the nave, to become a classroom on occasion? What’s your experience? Please share!

Friday, May 31, 2013

At the Threshold, After the Angel - A Riff on the Visitation

In those days, the world cried out in pain:
            the pain of oppression and violence
            of injustice and despair
In those days, the world cried out
            for salvation, for hope, for promise.
In those days of angelic announcement and prophetic discourse and salvific promise –
when did she know?

When the angel came to her, hailing her as favored one?
and when she consented to partner with God in this divine conspiracy?

Or did it become clear at the moment she asked how can this be?
And the angel explained exactly how it could be; is that when she knew?

 Or…was it after the angel departed from her?

When did she know? When did she come to understand her part in this divine plan?

Perhaps not until she set out from Nazareth did understanding begin to grow within her heart
as the Holy grew within her body.
Or finally, when she reached that “town in the Judean hill country”
            and stood at the threshold of the house of priestly Zechariah

When she crossed that threshold and greeted Elizabeth - wise, patient, expectant Elizabeth
prophetic Elizabeth,
Elizabeth who embraced her and felt the movement of the Spirit, the wonder of God’s favor:
“Why me? Why has this happened to me? The mother of my Lord is…here.”

Surely that’s when Mary knew. Crossing that threshold, entering that space made suddenly sacred:
Sacred with hope, sacred with promise, sacred with grace and blessing

Two women – one too old, one far too young
Each faithful and obedient, expectant with promise and salvation;
eyes meeting, arms embracing.

That’s when Mary knew that the news she bore was the Good News.

That’s when Mary understood what it all meant: the angel, the “yes”, the journey, the joyful greeting.
Crossing the threshold had opened her eyes, freed her spirit, opened her heart.
Crossing the threshold, she found her voice and sang a song -
and changed the world.

In those days….

In these days the world still cries out in pain
The world still cries out for those who will bear the Good News
            and give birth to Divine hope and tell of God’s promise

In these days we are Elizabeth; we are the prophetic ones
Sensing the movement of the Spirit, knowing the wonder of God’s favor
Seeing the presence of Christ in the ones who cross the thresholds of our lives
And we are Mary: the obedient ones, the ones who say “yes”.
            We take the journey, step by step, revelation by revelation.

In these days we must be the angels, the prophets, bearing the message of salvation’s promise.

For we, too, have a song to sing:
It is the anthem of salvation, it is the aria of grace,
it is the hymn of promise that poured from Mary’s heart.

We know what news we bear.
We know it is with this news that every place,
and every space,
may be made sacred with hope,
sacred with promise,
sacred with grace and blessing.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rescuing Stewardship – Beyond Giving to the Church

Several years ago I suggested to our parish finance committee that rather than put together our parish budget after the annual financial pledges are in, which has been the parish’s historical approach to budgeting, we instead build a “dream” budget first and ask parishioners to support it. A member of the committee responded gruffly, “That’s not stewardship, that’s fundraising; it’s giving to a budget, not to God. Stewardship isn’t fundraising.” Well, of course it isn’t. Who says it is? Most of us, actually – every time we refer to what happens in October and November in our parishes.

Our definition of stewardship is too narrow. Within those narrow confines, we have become comfortable with the concept of the annual exercise of pledging “time, talent, and treasure” (would someone please come up with another trinity of terms for those?!) to the church. If we come to a better understanding of true stewardship, then far from being comfortable we will live more fully into the often unsettling challenges that true stewardship offers.
Stewardship is not an activity done in church. Stewardship is a spiritual practice which, while not exclusive to Christianity, is nevertheless an ongoing part of life as a member of the body of Christ, the community of the baptized both in and out of the institution that we call the church (yes, in spite of emergence and postmodernism, it’s still an institution!). A friend once defined stewardship as “what you do with what you have, every minute of every day.” He was right. And yet our vision of stewardship has become narrow and limited in its focus. I think we all know this, deep down, but we tend to gloss over it - especially every autumn.

What’s wrong with calling our annual pledging efforts Stewardship? For starters, it allows us to close the file on stewardship once we’ve filled out and signed our pledge forms. The fulfillment of those pledges will no doubt remind us of our promises; these are important contributions to our faith communities and they do constitute our ministries – but they only constitute a portion of what it means to be true stewards of God’s abundant creation and gifts.
Rather than either disparaging fundraising as too secular (and let's face it, how many of us have special "fundraising" activities during the remainder of the year?) let’s just admit that it is what we do and embrace it as needful. We need money to fund ministries – and also to pay salaries, utility bills, landscaping crews, etc. This is not a substitute for the actual practice of stewardship but is a necessity as long as congregations are housed in buildings, employ and support clergy and lay staff, and sponsor programs that require material resources. That is, in fact, “giving to a budget”, regardless of whether that budget is created before or after the financial pledges come in.  And we do need people with specific gifts and skills, (and often, simple willingness), to participate in ministries and programs that allow us to be who we believe we must be as a Christian community. So, let’s make sure that our budgets and requests for volunteers reflect God’s mission as we have discerned it for ourselves and our community, and helps us obtain and achieve what we must do to carry out that mission.
But stewardship is about much more that giving to an institution or even to a specific community that we are attached to, fond of, or dependent on. So I’m encouraging my parish to make an intentional effort to think more expansively about the true nature of stewardship. For starters, I say, let’s never, ever call our annual pitch for funding for next year’s budget, or our efforts to get volunteers to assume the many responsibilities that we’ve grafted onto communal Christian life in the last century or so, no matter how necessary or beloved they may be, by the name Stewardship Campaign or drive or effort. That will take some discipline – OK, it will take lots of discipline! Instead, I hope we can begin to recognize that stewardship is nothing more and nothing less than our constant practice of honoring God by the right use of all of God’s gifts, in and out of church. Let’s not use that beautiful word to describe anything less.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Litany in the Wake of Boston and Texas

Here is the litany we'll be praying in my parish this morning:

A Litany of Healing, Hope, and Peace

Presider:            Entrusting our lives, our communities, and our world to the God who created, redeems, and sustains us, let us pray for peace, healing and hope.

A person appointed then leads the Litany:

God the Father, your will for all people is health, peace, justice, and salvation;
We praise you and thank you, O God.

God the Son, you came to show us a new way of being, reconciling us with you and one another;
Hear us, O God, and heal our world.

God the Holy Spirit, you manifest your Presence among us, giving us hope and empowering us for your service;
Hear us, O God, and heal our world.

Holy Trinity, one God, source of life and foundation of all relationship;
Hear us, O God, and heal our world.

O God, hear our prayers for all those affected by the bombings in Boston:
For those who died in the bombings and ensuing events;
Grant them eternal rest, O God.

For those who suffered life-changing injuries and who face a new and different way of life, and for those who mourn;
Give them hope and grant them healing, O God.

Hear our prayers for those affected by the explosion in West, Texas:
For those who died;
Grant them eternal rest, O God.

For the injured, and for those who mourn;
Give them hope and grant them healing, O God.

For first responders in every situation: law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and others who put their lives at risk for the sake of others; and for medical professionals, clergy and counselors who care for the injured in body and spirit;
We give you thanks, O God.

That our words may convey wisdom and mercy, and our actions carry integrity and justice, we pray;
Hear us, O God.

That our workplaces and schools may be kept safe and our public gatherings free from danger, and that our neighborhoods will be places of peace, we pray;
Hear us, O God.

That respectful dialogue among nations, religions, and peoples will increase, we pray;
Hear us, O God.

That those with hearts inclined to violence will turn themselves toward peace, and those inclined to hate and vilify others will come to know and share your love, we pray;
Hear us, O God.

That all those who suffer from pain, illness, fear, injustice, natural calamities, and human violence may feel the grace and healing of your presence, we pray;
Hear us, O God.

The presider concludes:
All these things we ask, loving and gracious God, for the sake of the world you so love and have redeemed. Make us your instruments of peace and healing in the name of Jesus the Shepherd who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 ©Cynthia J. Hallas

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

The more Holy Weeks and Easters I live through and participate in, the more I’m aware of how these holy days test our willingness, even perhaps our ability, to believe all that we claim to believe about Jesus the Christ and what that means for our own discipleship.  Worshipping the risen Christ is relatively easy; following Jesus of Nazareth, getting our hands dirty, getting down on our knees as servants to others, dealing with the world’s filth, taking on the world’s nastiness so that others might be cleansed and free, not so easy.  What’s even harder, perhaps, in a culture that promotes independence and self-reliance, is to allow another to serve us that way.  That makes us dependent and vulnerable, and a willing vulnerability just might be one of the most difficult of all of Jesus’ virtues to emulate.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus asks the twelve.  Not what I’ve done for you, but what I’ve done to you.  Do we know what he has done to us?  He has ‘set us an example’ – an example of humility and service, of vulnerability and love.  And we are invited to follow his example.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Famished is not a word found in the lexicon of most youngsters. But I do recall when my children were younger they would often say “Mom, I starving!” when they wanted something to eat. I would point out that they weren’t really starving, they were merely hungry; perhaps very hungry, but that’s nothing like starving. I wanted to help them understand that for many people in the world the lack of food was a situation both life-threatening and ongoing, unlike in our house where it was merely annoying, inconvenient, and more to the point, temporary.

The gospel for the First Sunday in Lent tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by the devil, and that “he ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” Famished: another word for “starved” or “starving.

The devil tests Jesus at his weakest and most vulnerable moment, tempting him, after all those weeks without food, to turn an ordinary stone into a simple loaf of bread. What harm could possibly come of a miracle like that? But though he is starving Jesus refuses, knowing that there is more to being “filled” than filling one’s belly, even when that belly’s been empty for forty days.
This has me wondering: when my own spirit is famished, how do I respond? Do I allow my fatigue and weakness to keep me from looking for what it is that I truly need? Is it possible for me to be so spiritually starved that I stop seeking, having lost sight of the end and instead settling for substitutes that both require and promise less? Such substitutes are numerous, easy to find and to rationalize; few would think less of me for being satisfied with any of them - all those stones that might so easily and conveniently be turned into bread, when what I really need is to seek more intently and intentionally the presence of God.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Max Knows

Two-and-a-half year old Max recently began attending our parish. He comes nearly every week with his grandmother, a very active member of the congregation who is committed to helping Max understand that Jesus loves him and that the church is a friendly, welcoming place (I had baptized Max when he was an infant). Max attends our preschool class, held during the second half of the Liturgy of the Word (the young ones leave after the gospel and return just before the Peace). For the remainder of the service, he sits agreeably with his grandmother, sometimes "reading" the prayer book or hymnal, occasionally imitating the presider’s gestures during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Max’s grandmother often serves as a chalice bearer in our liturgy, which means she comes forward just before communion is distributed to give the wine to worshippers at the chancel rail. She asked if Max could accompany her into the chancel the first time he visited, since she couldn’t leave him alone in the pew. I was happy to say yes, knowing that some people might object, not knowing how Max would behave, but willing to take the risk. He was golden! He stayed quietly near his grandmother as she made the rounds; when communion was over the server had an extra vessel to be returned to the sacristy, and didn’t know what to do with it. “Give it to Max,” I said. She did, and he proudly and carefully carried it around the corner to be cleaned and put away. Since then, Max has become a regular whenever she serves, receiving communion alongside her at the outset then standing calmly in the chancel until all is finished.
The bishop recently visited, and grandmother was scheduled to serve. She asked if she should find a substitute or leave him at home that day. I assured her it would be fine to bring him up; the bishop was delighted. After the service he was speaking with the Vestry, and the conversation turned to children and the virtue of letting them experience liturgy vs. being taught “about” it in a Sunday School class. Like most of us in the parish (and this was not, initially, an easy change to manage) the bishop believes that children learn about God, Christ, and the church by participating in sacred acts of worship rather than being told about what they mean. It is how they know, he told us; then asked us, “What do you think Max knows?”
I’m grateful to Max’s grandmother for bringing him so faithfully. And whatever choices Max and his family make later in life, I pray that these formative experiences he’s having now will stay with him, and that he will hold on to these memories and to the knowledge that God loves him and the church does, too. Max has been “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever”. He may not be able to articulate that now, but surely, that is what Max knows.