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All Saints Day 2011

Dave and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the city of Chicago this last weekend. I had two workshops introducing the Worship & Song hymn supplement, and Dave came along so we could celebrate our anniversary and my birthday. On Sunday morning, just as people were gathering in this sanctuary to worship, we joined a group of people, most of whom we had never met, but who were sisters and brothers in Christ, to worship God, remember the saints, and receive Holy Communion.

It was completely comfortable and strangely unfamiliar at the same time. After an hour-long train ride. We walked the two blocks to a 100–year-old sanctuary. It had pews and a high, ornate dome, but the pews were arranged in a loose circle. The altar table, graced with fabric, candles, bread and chalice and pitcher, was set in the middle of the space. The worshippers were as diverse as a congregation could be; all nations, ages, and races, to mention a few differences, were represented.

And then the female lead pastor said, “This is the day that the Lord has made,” and we all responded, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Welcome to the community of God’s people gathered on a Sunday morning to praise and worship, to celebrate and mourn, to sing and pray and eat — all of the same things we do in our worship.

There were other similarities. We sang “For All the Saints,” “Taste and See,” and the same communion responses we sing. We used the same Great Thanksgiving that was in our bulletin this past Sunday. We honored those who had died in this congregation and in our own lives this past year. There were well-thumbed copies of The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing in the pew racks. At one point, the pastor made an announcement about the upcoming yearly church meeting (Dave and I looked at each other and mouthed the words as she said it: “Charge Conference”.) I knew at once that I was welcome, that I was loved, that I was in God’s presence, even though my church family was 500 or so miles away.

There were differences, too. I learned a great new tune for “Take My Life and Let It Be,” (look for it at a worship service soon). I experienced a different tune for “Draw the Circle Wide” (NOT Mark Miller – oh, the sacrilege!) The preaching was fine, but not the quality to which I have become accustomed (read: spoiled). The choir had about 9 people in it, and they did a very nice job. The main difference: I had no responsibility other than to praise and worship.

Now, I love my job. I love our church. I love the choir, and the people, and the staff here. I am spoiled by the caliber of worship and preaching and Jon Calvin’s playing (maybe that most of all). And being away from our church for a Sunday to experience worship in a different setting is a positive experience for me, both personally and professionally. But, the message for me this past Sunday was this: no matter our differences, where two or three gather for worship, the living Christ is present. Sometimes because of our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, sometimes in spite of it. And somewhere, in an urban neighborhood in a huge city, our twin in ministry if not in actuality is offering the bread of life to all who come. I, for one, was a grateful recipient.