I was in Phoenix, giving a talk to a parish group about Losing Susan. In the course of things I mentioned that after seminary I was a curate at Zion Church in Wappingers Falls, New York, in the beautiful Hudson Valley. A man waited to speak to me afterwards. He said he had used to take care of the organ at Zion. He mentioned the organist, Noel Hart; I said Noel was there when I was.
Now here we were, thirty years later, two thousand miles from Wappingers Falls, greeting each other.
Up in Lewisville, a couple told me they were going to the Hudson Valley this week. They used to live on the west side of the Hudson and went to St. Gregory’s in Woodstock. Their priest then was Tom Miller—I knew Tom, and would drive to Woodstock for some drama and music programs they had in the church. “There was a novelist in the congregation,” I said; they said, “Gail Godwin.” She wrote a novel that I read back in the day, The Good Husband. We went on to talk about the unusual architect we shared, who had designed both St. Gregory’s and my parish in Hopewell Junction. “Was yours also an A-frame?” they asked me. He had a genius for designing interesting but difficult church buildings.
So here we were, some twenty-five years later, fifteen hundred miles from the Hudson Valley, meeting for the first time, talking about ordinary and quirky church life that we were both a part of a generation ago.
Am I becoming more like my father? He was always drawing out connections with people. A year before he died, I was with him in the ER. The nurse came back and the first thing my father said was, “Did you say you were from—?” and he named a town. “No, I didn’t,” said the nurse, which didn’t really faze my father; he went on to say something about that place anyway. I think it helped him feel at home to know something about the people around him, to find something that they had something in common.
And my grandmother! She was a farmer, and some thirty years ago she was in a hospital in a big city. But instead of being lost in that large corporation of medical experts, she was surrounded by nurses and doctors that were connected to the place she had come from. It was as if she had re-created a small town around her in the midst of the impersonal city.
The church is, in this sense, a small town; and one of the blessings of my life today is that I get to see that frequently. I relish making these connections; they bring back memories. But more is going on. People are meant to live in connection: in families, often; in neighborhoods (parishes!); in cities. The worst effect of sin, humanly speaking, is that it corrupts these relationships.
At our best, we are reaching out. And as with everything, it can happen through and with Christ. Overcoming sin, he extends his arms in a way that offers us connection with him and thus with one another. Perhaps the most beautiful line in the 1979 Prayer Book is this: He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.
Out & about. Sunday, October 22, I will be preaching at the traditional morning services (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.) at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.
Also on October 22, at 6 p.m. I will give the Fall Theology Lecture: “What Good Is Authority?” (also at Incarnation, Dallas). The lecture will be given in the church itself, is free and open to the public, will include time for questions and be followed by a reception. As I’ve previously mentioned, to illustrate authority I intend to look at church and sport, two of our favorite things.