Father, that they may all be one.
Some of you may already know that I was a member of a religious community for 21 years before I became a Lutheran.
I along with 900 members of that community wore the same habit, took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, volunteered to work in the community’s infirmary and taught in Catholic schools along the east coast.
In 2013, 16 years after I left religious life I was working as a hospice chaplain at an inpatient unit in West Chester, PA. One day, a member of the religious community wherein I was a member, was visiting a patient.
As fate or the Holy Spirit would have it, we passed each other in the hallway. Chris? Joanne? In the midst of a hug……….How are you? It’s been so long! What are you doing here? I explained that I was a chaplain as I wasn’t wearing a clerical collar.
More conversation ensued and as we were walking toward the elevator, Sister Joanne asked, are you still a Catholic? My friends at that moment I felt like the floor dropped under me. In a very calm, with a squeak of Here I Stand humming in the background, I replied, no I am a Lutheran now.
“Oh…..well that’s close. I will pray for you.” Suddenly I felt a wave of embarrassment and anger. A nurse who was in earshot of the conversation, looked at me in shock. Do you believe that she told me that she was going to pray for me because I am no longer a Catholic! Talk about condescending and self righteous!
Eventually, with the help of God’s grace I forgave Sister Joanne because she like many including myself were taught that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church.
Please, my intent is not to bash the doctrines of the Catholic Church. I respect it because all of us are baptized through the same Holy Spirit.
Nor only that, but whether we are Jewish, Muslim or Athiest, our basic need for food water and shelter, love without judgment and peace with out compromise connects us.
Now on the flip side of that story. In August 2017 I and several members of Trinity attended my father’s funeral which took place in a Catholic church in Broomall. My brother, best friend Ellen and I arrived early in order to have some privacy before the funeral started.
Wren from Huff and Lakjer informed the priest that I was going to do the committal since I was a Lutheran pastor. Some time had passed and when I saw Wren headed back toward the sacristy, I called him aside and asked if he would ask the priest if I along with all of my family members could receive Holy Communion. Upon returning, in a very sensitive and compassionate voice, Wren told me that Father declined the request because only a Roman Catholic who is in good standing may receive Communion in a Catholic Church.
Mind you, intellectually I knew the doctrine, but I yearned for the grace of the sacrament. My heart was crushed and silently, in the recesses of my heart I screamed, it’s my Father’s funeral for goodness sake!
You are not the grace police and the Catholic Church has the right to deprive anyone who believes that the Body and Blood of Christ is truly present in the sacrament.
Personal opinion over doctrine, but in the end regardless of my feelings, I must honor the teachings of the Church and respect those who choose not to go because they are not Roman Catholic.
The service continued and right before the Lamb of God was sung, I started to cry. I told myself that I would wait until the end of the communion line and beg. I was going to say, Father, please give me Holy Communion today.
My friends, if you like me believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, what was I supposed to do when my reason and strength was being summoned by the Holy Spirit to come to the Lord’s table?
Right before Father came down to distribute Holy Communion he announced, all who wish to receive Holy Communion are invited to do.
What! No gentle reminder about the what unites but still separates us?
Nothing! Just all who wish are invited! I was astonished and rightfully so! On my way back from Holy Communion I looked up toward the ceiling, gestured a high five and whispered…..thanks Pop.
After the service, I like everyone else acknowledged Father but when I shook his hand I paused and with tears in my eyes I said, thank you for letting me have Holy Communion.
My gratitude was sincere but why was I moved to thank my brother in Christ for giving me the permission to receive Holy Communion that day? Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose from the dead to justify all of God’s people and not just a chosen few. Jesus never disconnects anyone because Jesus is all about connecting everyone!
At the end of the day, I realized that there was a tremendous movement of grace that took place in the priest’s heart that day. The Holy Spirit provided him with the courage to take the risk…..and gently open the curtain of doctrine that divided us.
At Trinity we don’t have a curtain that divides us because we’ve chosen to connect our fragile yet durable threads of faith with the entire community.
Does that mean that we won’t be tempted to give up and forget about moving Trinity forward?
Absolutely not! If anything, the hem of the garment of our moving Trinity forward may need to be altered from time to time, but not taken apart.
My friends, as a family of faith let’s trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to connect us….one stitch at a time.