Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Changing the Church's Clothes

The best photographs are never taken. They are usually moments in the heart that happen too fast for a camera or in a moment too sacred for the intrusion of photography.

We had fiesta of emotions this weekend with our church sanctuary changing clothes three times.

Elizabeth and John got married in the afternoon on Saturday.  We’ve known the bride since she was six years old. and I remember the year Beaven came home from a mission trip to Mexico and told me he thought Elizabeth was sweet on one of the guys she met on the trip. My theory is that there isn’t a better place to meet a future spouse than on a mission trip. They had found the best part of each other and knew how to nurture it and share this part with the world.

There was the usual dramatic moment when the bride entered the church on her father’s arm and  I wished for a picture of her smile and I wished I could have a picture of  the congregations faces; but photography can’t capture the small sob that catches in your chest and moves up to your throat when you feel so proud and happy you could burst. So I will just have to hold the picture in my heart.

As soon as the bride and groom had left the church and we had cleaned up Fellowship Hall I went back inside the sanctuary to change its clothes. We had to move the chancel furniture back into position and get out the banners for the Confirmation the next morning.

This sounds much easier than it is. Each confirmation class makes a banner to express the beliefs they have adopted during their classes. On Confirmation Sunday when they profess this faith they carry their banner in a grand procession into the church sanctuary. After a few weeks their banner goes on the wall where the others are hung. Right now we have accumulated 11 banners dating from 1992. This makes for a grand procession. I had to get a ladder and take the banners off the wall, find the standards to hold then and the bases. Then put it all together and schlep the heavy concrete bases up to the chancel. All 11 of them.

My exhaustion at all this effort was ameliorated a bit by the knowledge of what a grand procession we would have this year.  But it turned out to be even better than I could imagine.. Because of Elizabeth’s wedding we had a lot of “kids” from out of town. Both of  the seminary students we've produced lately were home. One graduate brought her baby that we had never met. They trickled in from hither and yon. I had put out a general request asking who would like to carry their classes’ banner on Sunday morning.

I always love a good procession of any kind in worship. This particular procession has grown as new banners are added every two years or so. I had an intricate list in my pocket of who was going to carry which banner. What I hadn’t factored into the equation was how many people from previous classes had come to Garland for Elizabeth’s wedding. People kept coming up to me saying they could carry their class’ banner. I kept adding names to the list and re-arranging it. After the fourth list I just went to the pastor and told her to invite everyone who had ever been in a confirmation class to meet in the chapel during the Passing of the Peace. As the organ began playing “Lift High the Cross” we opened the double doors and a whole generation of people who grew up in our church walked in.

It was a magnificent procession with the 8-foot tall multi-colored banners waving as they walked. As each banner went into the base in the chancel the kids of that class stood by their banner. Each class had designed their own banner and could remember the journey they had taken with the Holy Spirit to come up with their class’ statement of faith that was translated into cloth images with symbols and scripture. It was one of those teary moments that comes in a church family when we realize how much we love being part of a young person’s faith journey and how proud we are to see who they grew up to be.

This is what I wish I had a picture of: Donnice King Michel standing beside Stephanie Stacy Webb representing the Confirmation Class of 1996, to show the congregation that they have married, had a baby and begun careers but still consider our church as their home. In my picture you could see Alissa King who was in town from Louisville Seminary. We had a mother and her daughter: Jamye standing by the banner of 1992 and Makayla with the 2011 banner. The chancel was full.  More than a few people were moved to tears and that includes the men.

When worship was over I took a picture of Sarah with her faith partner. Gail and her family have shared a pew with us from almost the minute we joined the church in 1977. I did remember to take this picture.


An hour after worship ended, we changed the church’s clothes again. Our congregation hosted Grace Presbytery’s Youth Led Worship for a couple hundred kids and as soon as I moved the banners off the chancel they started plugging in guitars and microphones.

While they practiced the music for worship I hung all the banners back on the wall and moved the heavy concrete bases back into the closet. I sat in the hall resting and feeling tired. A woman visiting for the youth led worship came and sat with me. I was in the middle of telling her the history of our congregation when I could hear the latest energizer tuning up in Fellowship Hall. I went from feeling as old as the hills to knowing I just HAD to go join the kids for the energizer. So, instead of a photo, I would have to include a video of myself dancing to the music. Since I don’t have one here’s a video from Youtube of the song:

Celebration, it surrounds us
Every nation all around us
Staying forever young
Singing songs underneath the sun
Let's rejoice in the beautiful game
And together at the end of the day, we all say:
When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom
Just like the waving flag.




It’s nice to have a church steeped in traditions and nostalgia but I like to stay on the forward-looking edge of the timeline. Have a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.

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