Easter time and my Pop are indelibly connected. Not only was his birthday during this time of year, but as a minister it was the busy season for him, and for his family. As he wrote out his sermons in long hand, pencil first, pen for the final product, Mom typed out the church bulletins while my sister and I folded the freshly mimeographed bulletins, carefully and precisely.
Countless pancake suppers on Fat Tuesday, countless sunrise services on Easter Sunday followed by breakfast and another service. Good Friday meant three hour services starting at noon, ending at three pm. Seven ministers bringing us the the seven last words. Cranky, fidgety kids in the pews, earning Mom’s evil eye from the choir stall. Waking up super early on Easter Sunday, clomping around the apartment wearing pajamas and our new shoes, because, hey, new shoes.
And yet we survived those days and went on to subject our children to the same.
When Pop left the local church to work with the national church administration I was almost an adult. Within three years I established a home of my own with a husband and a child. And there began the search for a church home, a place were I would be nurtured, comforted, and feel safe in the knowledge that my faith would be valued.
Running into ministers with human frailties should be expected, but in my mind I thought, “If you can’t live the gospel, you shouldn’t preach the gospel”. And I moved on. Eventually, I stopped going to church all together. Something that I knew hurt my parents but I was actually more comfortable not going to church. My faith was still there but I’d lost my religion.
And then last week I made a wrong turn that turned out to be very right. I passed an old church building with a bell tower. The sign out front said it was Park United Methodist Church, only two miles from home. I looked them up on Facebook, of all places, and found pictures of a congregation living their faith. A soup kitchen, a child care center and after school program, a community food bank are listed as some of the many programs and services at the church.
I showed up at the Maundy Thursday service in jeans because I’d been running errands after work, and walked into a room of people all wearing jeans. The service was an interactive experience. The crown of thorns we held pricked our palms. We cringed as we held an old nail in our hands and struck it into a cross, with a hammer. We rolled dice, as the soldiers did, wagering to win the condemned man’s clothing. We lit a candles at the altar helping to banish the gloom. The taste of bitter vinegar reminded us that when Jesus was thirsty he was given vinegar. I took communion for the first time in many years and went home feeling peaceful.
Good Friday’s Tenebrae service found the altar covered in black cloth, the sanctuary dimly lit with dozens of candles. With scripture readings and musical selections from Jesus Christ Superstar, the light gradually disappeared leaving us in reverent darkness. We went home in silence.
Sunday’s Resurrection Celebration pulled out all the stops. A bell choir, children’s choir, youth choir, and Chancel choir brought musical selections. Seated in packed pews, we enjoyed music from the organ, piano, and several orchestral instruments. Dancers brought the word to life in movement. We laughed, we sang, we felt joyful.
If you’ve read any of my previous work, you know this isn’t one of my usual pieces. Just wanted to share my weekend with you.
I didn’t go to church because it was Easter. I didn’t go to church to protect my father’s legacy. I went back to church for me. We all yearn to be an integral part of a community and I really feel like I found a new church home. A wrong turn that turned out to be very right. Was Pop my co-pilot that day? Maybe. I’d like to think so, it’s something he would do.