Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve my husband and I went to midnight mass at my favorite parish – the place where I did seven months of discernment work before seminary, the place once referred to on the blog as Church by the Creek.

One of the hard lessons of life is the cliche “you can’t go home again.” I have found that this is usually true. But I was fortunate in that, in the ways that count, Church by the Creek had changed little since my last visit a year before. In fact it had changed little since I was an intern there three years before. On that Christmas Eve I was helping to run the Christmas pageant I wrote, reminding the acolytes not to set anything on fire for the 37th time, and serving Communion bread for the first time in my life.

I was just a visitor this time, making what would likely be my last pilgrimage to this beloved place where I came to truly understand ordained ministry. Next year at Christmas, God willing, I’ll probably be celebrating the Eucharist myself, on another altar in a parish not yet know to me. And nothing really stays the same anyway. The rector is nearing retirement. Some people have left and new ones I never knew have arrived. The older people were more stooped and the kids had grown taller.

To my surprise a chalice bearer forgot they were on the rota. Almost before I knew what was happening to me, I was in an alb, then in the procession, then sitting with the altar party. Surrounded by greenery and candles I shared a bulletin with two acolytes, reminded the youngest when to ring the sanctus bells, and sang my heart out. I said “the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation” over and over as I worked my way down the tiny Communion rail with a chalice that was much smaller than I remembered it being.

For one blessed Christmas Eve, it was the place I remembered. The chaos before the service. The warmth amid the confusion. The exchange of the peace that took so long I remembered why I used to jokingly call it “intermission.” The short but well-crafted sermon that showed no signs of weariness from preaching 23 Christmases. The candlelight and incense and sanctus bells and a sanctuary so small I tripped over a prayer desk while serving Communion. Over there the Mary chapel where I kept vigil in the darkness of Maundy Thursday 2006, a brand new postulant arguing out loud with God. Back there the font; the location of the first baptism I ever assisted with. To the left the tiny sacristy I spent all of Holy Saturday cleaning and organizing, and where I learned just how much I’d want to be a sacristan at seminary. And out there – the people. The people who had welcomed their first ever aspirant to the priesthood with open arms, putting up with my mistakes and questions and clumsy attempts at pastoral care. The people who had patiently endured my enthusiasm and confusion, even at their bedsides in the hospital. The people who taught me what a child-friendly church really looks like, and reminded me what the priesthood of all believers in really about.

For a little while it was all there again, an incredible gift, a reprieve from the world of GOEs and the job search and the beginnings of preparations and grief over leaving the world of seminary. In a tiny church in a town nobody has heard of I saw and felt what we spent all Advent talking about and waiting for – Emmanuel, God with us.

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~ by Sophia on December 30, 2008.

3 Responses to “Christmas Eve”

  1. Oh how lovely…I’m happy that you had that reminder of where you are going (and where you have come from) before the madness strikes!Interested to read that you’ll be priested by next Christmas – another difference between ECUSA and the CofE, where you have to serve a year as a Deacon. So does this mean you’ll go straight from seminary to a parish of your own? Wow…both scary and exciting

  2. Kathryn,No guarantee that I’ll be priested by next Christmas, but very likely. Our rules say you must be a candidate for Holy Orders for at least 6 months (I became a candidate this past June) before being ordained deacon and then a deacon for at least 6 months before being ordained priest. I’m to be ordained deacon in May. My ordination to the priesthood won’t be scheduled for a while, but if all goes well it will be next winter sometime. My diocese is joining a growing trend here of ordaining to the diaconate in the middle/end of the third year of seminary. Many of our dioceses need priests very badly. My diocese has indicated that I am to return to their area and that they are looking for a curacy or assistant rector position for me. If they don’t find something by about Feb. or March they will “release” me, at which time I am free to search nationwide. There is something in the works now at a parish I’d love to work for, with a priest I’d be delighted to work for, but budgetary issues also come into play. I’m trying hard to remain calm and praying that it all works out okay in the end.

  3. What a lovely Christmas gift for you.And I hope the job stuff works out. It is a hard year, harder than usual for budgetary reasons.

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