A sea of faces and stories:
The church where I work counts many wealthy and powerful people among its members. On a Sunday morning it is not unusual to find recognizable faces from the worlds of politics and finance there. In fact, people from every walk of life can be seen in those pews. There are those who slip in and speak to no one, and those who sit on every committee in the church. There are those who look disheveled, and those who are dressed to the nines. And every one of them represents a story.
Have you ever wondered what this sea of participants looks like from the altar?
Priests in traditional churches like this one do not lead easy lives. They preside over liturgies, prepare sermons, visit the home-bound and the sick, teach courses, counsel the broken-hearted, plan events, and deal with a slew of administrative details every day. Much of what they do is emotionally demanding. Much of what they see is discouraging. Like many who work in churches, priests get to see the best, but all too often the worst, in people. And when they stand before the altar, it can be a struggle to enter into the spirit of corporate worship.
The power to lift hearts
But now I have to tell you about two women who have been coming to this parish for years. They are sisters, both never married, unremarkable in status, but the most sincere and virtuous women you are likely to find.
And so imagine this: two priest are standing side-by-side in the chancel, while a third priest presides over the liturgy. They are wearied and weighed down by a myriad of tiny things this morning that most of the worshippers present will never be aware of. One priest leans over to the others and whispers, “See the sisters there – watch them at this next part.”
The officiating priest says, “Lift up your hearts.”
As the congregation responds, the sisters, with faces aglow and brimming with emotion, join in saying, “We lift them up unto the Lord.”
The two priests smile at each other. The weight has lifted, because this is what it’s all about. This is why we do what we do. We do it because these women are here today, worshipping in spirit and in truth.
Make me “unremarkable”
I was told this story by one of those two priests, and I am thinking of it now because one of those wonderful, holy women was buried today. It made me think then what it makes me think now – that I want to be just like that. I want to be the face in the crowd that energizes the weary priest with the conviction that his efforts are not wasted. I want to be the parishioner who remembers to send Christmas cards to the church custodians. I want to be the unremarkable woman whose authentic love for God is a testimony wherever she goes.