Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Welcoming the man in the seat by the aisle

Last Sunday, I was sitting in the side section on the right side of the church (as the congregation sees it).  I normally don't sit on the side pews, but I am a sometime church photographer and there was an Event I was asked to capture during the announcements.  But before that, I just watched, with my observer's eye.

In our church, as in many, the Gospel reading is from the center aisle.  There are two torches and a thurifer, and a verger, as well as the Gospeller.  Over 350 people turned to face the Book.

The Gospel was Luke 3:7-18:  John the Baptist and the vipers."Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

Where I was, on the side,  I noticed a man who was on the opposite side of the side aisle, a row or two behind me.  He was a bit shabby, but not ragged, and I didn't recognize him. He was  intensely moved by the line "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals".  He sank to his seat and put his face in his hands and his shoulders heaved for a moment, but in a moment he was back on his feet.  The people around him didn't notice, as they were facing the Gospel party in the center aisle, and had their backs to the man.

As I told BP, if I were a real photographer, I'd have shot that image of the seated, sobbing man against the background of standing folk, turned away.  But I couldn't intrude on him that way.

At the  Peace, as is typical, folks shake hands nearby, and then go search for people they know.  The person standing next to the man I'd seen weeping shook his hand, and then looked elsewhere.  I saw others on my side of the aisle look for friends.  I made a point of walking to the man, touching his shoulder, and shaking his hand.

"Peace be with you," I said. 

But I feel bad. I should have asked him to be sure to stay, that he was welcome.  Because later  I realized that he had left the church before Communion. I'm not sure he heard the sub-Dean's words of welcome at the announcements.... "There is no such thing as a visitor to St Paul's;  if you are here, you are a member of this holy family at this holy time."

 I suspect that many people are relieved that "difficult" people don't stay:  the poor, the emotional, those in pain, the demanding, the disturbed, the ill.  It's easy to write a check, to be remote.  It's harder to shake hands, and to listen, and take that risk of being sucked in, that responsibility, when all you want is something safely anonymous that assuages your guilt so you can go do the weekend chores, unencumbered.

My challenge, then, is for each of us to step out of our comfort zone with the strangers who will come to church this season, especially folks who "scare" us. 

Peace be with you.  You are welcome here.


Andy Pierce said...

I was wondering if I could reprint this in our diocese newsletter? I'm the editor of the Central New York newsletter, and this is such a beautiful, simple message to everyone... I'll give a pointer to the blog and to the author as well...

Thanks in advance for considering this!

Andy Pierce

PseudoPiskie said...

Mind if I share on our church's Facebook page?

IT said...

Wow, very flattered. Yes, please feel free to share!

Please just make sure to mention that the church is St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego.

IT said...

And if anyone does share, can you leave a comment here with the link if any? Thanks!

Ginny said...

I'll sure want to share this on our Facebook page and blog - St Nicholas, Elk Grove Village IL

Brother David said...

Preach it sista!

Andy Pierce said...

Well, it's here for the next month or so, I believe... It's the article with the header "Dent-de-Lion". Thanks for letting us re-publish!

IT said...

Thank you Andy, I'm very flattered you picked up my piece.