Sunday, September 22, 2013

His church in action

Friday afternoon, Beve and I braved the traffic of Seattle to go to a memorial service of the man who had been the president of the university in the town where we grew up. Not so coincidentally, he was the father of one of our closest high school friends, a man we haven't seen in almost two decades. But (also not coincidentally) this former university president had retired in the same community where Grampie'd made his retirement home, so we've spoken to the dad but not the son. So, knowing what it is to lose a parent, we reached out to our old friend when we heard the news of his dad's death. And he was glad enough to invite us to the Seattle service. There will be another one held in a few weeks in our home town, with the pomp and circumstance required of a man who was known as 'the students' president' because his first, last and primary concern was the students who were on campus right then an there. Dr. Terrell (or Dr. T, as I came to call him once I was old enough to feel comfortable around my friend's dad) became president during the late 60s when the country's campuses were tumultuous places. So you might say he jumped in at the deep end. I remember how he took time for ME. Even me, his son's friend. I remember sitting in his office in their house across his desk from him and he just talked to me. Another time, he hitched a ride with my mom, sisters and me up to the scout camp where his son was in my dad's troop. We had a picnic together--just Dr. T, and us, right on Kamiak Butte. It is an oft-told story in my family, because it involved deviled eggs he'd brought. My middle sister ate too many on my behalf. I still thank her for that. Anyway, he was quite the man.

But to us--to Beve and me--he was primarily our friend's dad. I didn't know all this stuff. I didn't think about it. I knew their house was the largest in town. They had a house-keeper and their kitchen was enormous, a front stairs and a back stairs and three floors (and a basement) and plenty of places to hide when we played hide-and-seek, and a huge yard with a wrought-iron fence surrounding it and a Saint Bernard that roamed its borders.The only time I remember being REALLY awed was when our friend's mom invited me into the master bedroom to show me the Sadie Hawkins' picture of her son and me on the mantle (which she loved because it was so adorable--it really was. And the story of me inviting him...completely accidental. I've still never confessed to him that I'd thought it was a joke. A joke I was glad had happened in the end!). That bedroom was about as big as half of my family's first floor--and we had a pretty big house. But our friend was just like the rest of the guys I knew--a huge tease, a rock, and one of my favorite people with whom to have conversations. EVER. He was just so blasted smart. So challenging. That is, if you could get him to settle down enough to have such conversations. Beve and this friend together--well, let's just say they were a handful--not in a bad way but ridiculous. I can't even tell you. 

Anyway, as these things go, we grew apart, even though we live just up the freeway from each other. But his dad died. So when he asked us about coming to the service, it was a no-brainer. 

It was wonderful to see him. He's older. Craggier. Odd how that's happened in two decades. Beve's gotten gray, I've gotten wrinkled, he's gotten craggy. But we're still ourselves, inside still our seventeen-year-old selves too. The best part of the service was when our friend's incredibly well-spoken, brilliant son talked about his Grandpa. We were awed. Really, only mid-twenties? Seriously? That young man will be president some day. I betcha.

Anyway, this is all prelude to what I wanted to say. The church where the service was held is St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. It's a beautiful church with roughhewn wooden planks on the ceiling, high arched windows and an organ that will knock your socks off. In my twenties I went to the Compline service there and still remember those holy moments. This cathedral is in the middle of one of the most beautiful parts of Seattle, overlooking Lake Union, set among lavish, old and stylish homes. Well, I should call them mansions because that is what they are. Really. Manicured lawns, brick facades, large porches and porticoes. I kind of wanted to peek through the windows of every one of them as we walked the two blocks up the hill back to our car after the service.

Two blocks because the parking lot was full and we were late because Seattle traffic is like a parking lot itself and we made the rookie mistake of not accounting for that. At least not enough on a Friday afternoon. Anyway, here's the thing, the very, beautiful, powerful thing:
The parking lot at St. Mark's isn't as large as it used to be.
It isn't as large because on the side and back of the church, right in the middle of this posh neighborhood, is a tent city. 
A tent-city. 
It made me weep.
The church being the church., putting feet on faith, saying, "Come to ME all you who are weary and heavy-burdened, and you will find rest for your souls." 
"You have no place to live? HERE. Put up your tent here." Maybe even providing the tent. Probably, I'm guessing.
Beve let me out of the car and I felt over-dressed in my simple flats, black skirt and top because right on the steps was a woman--clearly from that tent city--sweeping with an old broom. Doing what she could. And she was singing. And suddenly I felt out of place, to tell the truth. Not down and dirty enough for the Kingdom. Trying to put on airs for the neighborhood, rather than for His Church. 

That moment-- that woman on the steps--felt like the holiest moment of my week. Seeing the Body in action. She has been given, so she gives back. And is glad in it.

I went on in a slipped into the last pew just in time to hear a soloist sing, "Hallelujah!" from the balcony. As it soared over us, I thought, Amen, Lord. Amen.

1 comment:

Pamela M. Steiner said...

This was one of the goosebump moments...the "Hallelujah" after seeing that precious woman sweeping the steps and the tents so close by. Remarkable. Thank you for sharing all of this...every word of it. It was all good. Thank you.