Our church is in the midst of a yearlong celebration to commemorate its 100th birthday. While our family has only been official members of St. Johns for little over a year, we feel very much a part of this community of faith that has a deep rooted history in our fair city. Numerous celebrations and festivities have either taken place since January or are scheduled to occur over the next nine months, including a very special worship service.
A few weeks ago, our parish deviated from its normal rite of service for a special bi-centennial worship. Our current prayer books and hymnals remained in their places in the pews while we followed along in our bulletins with language and instructions (for lack of a better word) taken directly from the 1912 prayer book. It was simply astounding. From an aesthetic perspective, it was fun to see some of the women of the church arrive in 1912 garb, or with proper head coverings as was required from that era. (I for one didn’t get the memo – and attended the service gasp with my head uncovered.)
Once I got past the old language (consisting of a lot of ‘thou’s and thine’s) I was able to settle into a very unique, very meaningful, very purposeful worship. I really liked it. At one point, while we were reciting a prayer in unison as a congregation, I looked up to the beams and rafters overhead, to the stained glass windows on each side of me, to the worn and in some places dented wood of the pew at my fingertips, and was overwhelmed by a sense of closeness. A feeling of awe and wonder came over me as I considered the sheer number of fellow Christians who had stood in the exact same place, worshiping the same Lord. I felt a sudden closeness - to my fellow parishioners, yes, but also a deeper connection to the church itself. I wondered how many thousands of prayers those rafters and beams and wooden pews had heard over the last century? How many hymns and songs of praise? I wondered how long had it been since those supporting structures had heard these same prayers in the same prose and tense as we were saying at that moment in time? My mind further trailed to wonder how many times had this space been adorned with festivity for weddings and baptisms, holy days and ordinations, and how many times the wooden bench behind me and kneeler beneath had supported those in sorrow?
It was overwhelming and strangely powerful to be a part of that service – yet somehow peaceful – all at the same time.
I pray that this small church nestled in the heart of the Shandon neighborhood will continue to grow and thrive over the next century, and beyond.