Celebrating church roots

Published 9:01 pm Saturday, August 13, 2016

For this week’s lifestyles cover, I was able to sit down with two long-time members of St. James, Pat Dow and Jonnie Sullivan. As I listened to the interconnectedness of their personal histories with the church, I couldn’t help but share a similar feeling about my own church.

Although my parents were not members of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer when I was born, by the formation of my earliest memories my family had made the switch. Just as Jonnie Sullivan recalled her mother directing the Easter pageant, I can remember my own mom leading the Christmas pageant. Although I am not a naturally gifted singer, I can remember standing by the piano as my mom played note by note so I could find the right pitch.

One year, we did a musical skit that featured modern twists on the classic Christmas carols as well as centered on the premise of a TV show that showed Christmas traditions from around the world. To be honest, I don’t remember whether we performed the skit or just the songs, but I do remember performing the skit part at home over and over again with my sister.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

While Pat Dow fondly recalled Lila Brown’s rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” I have a similar memory of Carole Bennett’s annual performance of “Ave Maria” during the Christmas Eve service. To close the same service, there’s also the tradition of turning out the lights and lighting candles during “Silent Night.” When I was younger, I can remember it being an acoustical performance by Johnny and Isabell Rainer. The darkness dotted with small circles of light limits vision, but it directs attention to the beautiful, simplicity of that age-old hymn.

Over the past year and a half, I have learned just how important having those kinds of roots can be. In December 2014, my husband and I got engaged. That prompted a nearly 10-month long journey to the altar. From sharing the excitement with all the folks at my church to my beautiful tea, it was a celebration pretty much the whole time.

The journey of course ended with the beautiful ceremony on Oct. 10, 2015. The 20-some years of practicing the same rituals, from the readings from the gospel and old and new testaments to the holy eucharist, made celebrating the sacrament of marriage at once familiar and different. Though the service was much longer than the average wedding ceremony, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world because it was connected with my confirmation and every Sunday, every Christmas, every Easter season in a way that emphasized the importance of a Godly marriage for me.

And then, we barely were able to settle down from one celebration before another one began. Another shower, another shared excitement came along as Reilly and I prepared to add another person to our new family. And in the next couple months, there will be another ceremony to add to the ever growing link as our baby girl is baptised. Not only will we, as her parents, make a promise to raise her in a Christian household, but, in one of my favorite aspects of the ceremony, all in attendance will join together and renew their own baptismal covenant. At that point, Helen will formally be a part of that community. It is that shared connection I cannot wait to share with her.

It’s that connection that makes being involved in a church so important. It’s why Jesus called us to join together — “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” That connection in God is full of celebration when times are good and full of encouragement when times are bad.

Julia Miller is the lifestyles editor at The Daily Leader