At each church I have been a part of over my life there has always been one thing, that for me, made that particular church special in a way all it’s own.
At St.Pauls, where I grew up, the thing that stands out above all else, is the tradition of the candles on Christmas eve. For many years we carried these beautiful colored glass votive holders with little tealights in them. To watch them shimmer and glow was something I looked forward to each and every year. the little candles inside the little bits of glass, sitting on the table at the front of the church, seemed to me a hundred little jewels sparkling. And to listen to and sing along to the beloved Christmas songs, and hear that familiar Christmas story, while watching those lights dance, I could always feel the presence of God right there. I really loved those candles and those gemstone votive holders, and I love them still.
At MatSu Covenant, our church home when we lived in Wasilla, there was the lively worship, led by John Koutsky and his banjo. There was no way someone could stay down or grumpy when a banjo is played. It was lively and fun and I could imagine God dancing along with the music, having fun alongside us. I came to depend on hearing that banjo on Sunday morning, and I have missed it since we moved. It was such a joy to hear him again after we moved back. And wonderful to worship again in that joyful and fun setting.
At Plymouth Covenant, where we attended some when we lived in Minnesota this last time (we were lucky enough to have 2 churches at one time). There was always a table full of bread, donated by a local bakery, for those in need. I loved the fact that, among all the affluence, someone remembered that there were those who had less than enough. I watched each time we visited that church, as families would head to that table, relief and joy on their faces. This table reminded me of 2 things, God’s provision, and my responsibility to help others.
At Arbor Covenant, in Madison, the church of my heart, each Sunday we ended the service with a benediction song. Not an unusual practice, but the manner in which it was done was truly special. The congregation was divided by an aisle down the center. At the end of each service, we would turn and face each other and sing, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious, gracious, gracious to you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you, give you, give you peace.” This simple act, of turning and looking across the aisle and calling forth God’s blessing and peace never failed to move me. Most Sundays I would tear up and barely make it through without weeping. While I write this, tears run. I love this tradition so very much, I wish every church would adopt it. It is hard to ignore Christ in your neighbor when you are singing into their eyes.
And now, here at First Covenant in Anchorage, I have found something that makes my heart swell with joy and love for this church. It is the volunteer choir. This has happened a few times now, unscheduled and unprompted. Someone is giving the announcements, or fielding prayer requests and they will say. “After I am done here , I would like to invite anyone up to the front for Volunteer Choir, and we can all sing …(some well known hymn or song of praise, this week it was Joy to the World)” And that is exactly what happens, people go forward and sing. They haven’t practiced, there may or may not be the singing of parts, they aren’t lined up in neat rows, sometimes their outfits clash wildly with the person they are standing next to, and, for the sheer joy that only singing with others in worship can bring, they SING!! I don’t go forward and sing, maybe someday I will, but for now I am content to sit back and watch and listen and worship.