After 31 years of being rector of Christ Church Plano, Father David Roseberry is stepping down. We expect our new rector from Canada, Father Paul Donison, to be installed at Christ Church this fall, but he is already conducting workshops and attending events from now until the transition is made and he steps fully into Father David’s place. As Father Paul seeks to become acquainted with our community, he will be visiting my small group called OnRamp this coming Monday. OnRamp is a small group designed to welcome newcomers to our congregation and give them an “on ramp” in which to meet other members in a relaxed atmosphere so that on Sunday mornings a familiar and welcoming face may be spotted in the crowd. We don’t have an ongoing study but rather discuss Sunday’s scripture reading in an open forum designed to interact with the Scriptures on a personal level. This Monday, as we welcome Father Paul, our facilitator has asked a few of us regular attendees to share what community, particularly community at Christ Church Plano, has meant to us. Being a writer, I am better off putting my ideas to paper and pen (well, I guess that should be “screen and keyboard” now) than trusting my babbling mouth. Besides, I have a really good story to tell. I’ve experienced the comfort of church community many times, but none quite like I did that Saturday morning of March 1, 2014.
The Women’s Ministry was holding its annual women’s retreat on our campus, and after depositing my young grandson in the nursery, I went to the chapel for our opening worship ceremony, which would begin in a few minutes. I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to worship. I like to sit at the end of a pew on the middle aisle so I can see the speaker. I’m short and always, if I sit mid-pew, a very tall person will plop down square in front of me and “out of sight, out of mind” will render my attention void for as long as the preacher speaks. I generally don’t even look around to see what friends have arrived; I simply claim my spot so that I can give my full attention to the service. But this morning, things would be different. Before I opened the glass doors, I uncharacteristically looked around for someone I knew. Anyone. And I spotted Katia standing in an empty pew, which happened to be my pew, but not on the end.
I knew Katia from a Women’s Bible study the previous spring. My daughter Rebekah had attended the study with me. Maybe it was the study on James. (Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.) Rebekah had been very taken with Katia as she listened to the woman humbly introduce herself to our table the first day of that study, telling some of her background—something about being a pilot, mother of boys, and now…a beekeeper. Rebekah really liked her. But, my daughter would not get to emulate Katia’s quiet strength to her own little son as she wished. Rebekah was killed in November, just months later. (And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.)
It was the Monday before Thanksgiving three months prior to this retreat that I was driving down dark and deserted streets to the hospital after having received The Phone Call late that night. A man with a heavy accent spoke. “My name is Innocent, ma’am, like your English word innocent. I am a nurse in the ER. This is not a joke. Your daughter has been in an accident. She is very, very sick. You need to come now.” As I drove, the radio played Mandessa’s “Overcomer,” Rebekah’s theme song. Lord, I’m not an overcomer and I don’t want to be. Then, a man was singing “Lord, I need you. How I need you.” Yes, Lord, I need You. I turned off the radio. It would be awhile before I sang again.
The music was beginning as I entered the chapel and walked down the pew. I stood next to Katia. We said some prayers, heard a collect, and read from Isaiah. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Is. 41:10b). We began singing a praise song. My eyes were closed, but tears began flowing down my cheeks. I didn’t understand why. Then, I realized we were singing that same song I had heard on the way to the hospital. On my way to say goodbye to my 23-year-old daughter. I need you, Lord, I need you. I began to cry out to God in the silence of my crumbling heart. How!? How are you going to uphold me with your righteous right hand? At that moment, Katia put her right hand around my shoulder and unwittingly held me together.
After our opening ceremony, we departed to various pull-outs, and I embarked on a silent prayer retreat, which consisted of being alone in prayer with God in a quiet place for an hour. I went outside to the prayer garden. Much like the original disciples in that other garden, I was done after about ten minutes and began journaling my sweet worship experience with the strong right hand of the beekeeper. At the end of the hour, I noticed Katia across the way on the playground and thought about letting her read my journal entry. But, I dismissed the idea. There was a fence between us and lots of other reasons if I thought long enough. Yet when I went inside to the ladies’ room, Katia was standing outside of it. I gave her my paper and said, “I think you’re supposed to read this,” then slipped into the restroom. My face wasn’t nearly as splotchy as I expected and after I composed myself, I returned to my friend. Now she was crying. “I was just standing there singing,” she explained, “and the Lord said, ‘Put your arm around her. Now.’ “
That’s the community of church. It’s about people being “Jesus with skin on” when we most need it. For those who think they can worship God at home or out in nature and church is thus irrelevant, this experience tells me nothing can be further from the truth. My Lord uses this community of believers to minister to me, His child. And as I raise my grandson, now four years old, my church community is there as my second family, helping to train him up in the way he should go.
So, I am grateful for the community I have found at Christ Church. This community is His hand. His mighty righteous right hand.