November 1, 2010

I See Dead People

A number of years ago, I was talking to a newer member of my church and he brought up the shabby appearance of our buildings. Up until that conversation, I hadn't noticed the peeling paint or the poorly lit rooms that he pointed out. He wasn't alone. Others who didn't have a history in our church had issues that seemed trivial to me, things such as the carpet in the sanctuary. While I was fully aware of the blue carpet's dated and worn appearance - carpet that was never attractive - it didn't bother me the way it seemed to bother those who didn't yet have relationships within the church..

That was when I first realized that just as new members see things that I can't see, those of us who have been around for years see things that they can't see. The difference is that - in addition to the people who we see in the flesh - we can see people who are long gone, people from our past who have impacted our lives, people who played a role in building our faith.

When I walk in one door, I see myself as a 3-year-old running up a ramp along with my very first, very best friend, our young moms trailing behind us. Betty, my friend's mom has been gone for years now. Her dad, Lloyd, passed away just a few years ago, but when I walk in another door, I can see him walking up to visitors, extending his hand to make them feel welcome.

When I turn towards the back of the sanctuary, I see Mr. Wester, who used to lift me high into the air after Sunday night services, much as my friends do now, although figuratively. I'm not nearly as easy to lift now as I was when I was 6. ;-)

If I walk down the stairs towards the library, I see Daisy and Kendall. They were quite a pair. Daisy was my first-grade Sunday school teacher and I see her wearing a fur stole and peep-toed shoes. I can still see Kendall in his wide ties that, unlike Daisy's old-fashioned stole and shoes, were about to come back into style. Even as a young child, I sensed that they were from another era. I also sensed their deep and abiding love for God.

As I walk through the lobby, I am greeted by Reggie - who is very much alive - but I also see his wife, Pat. Pat died six years ago last month, just a couple of weeks before my dad passed away. I don't remember a time when Pat wasn't sharing her gifts with the church, and I can clearly see her the last time we talked, as she encouraged me in my own service. As I walk by the elevators, I can see Austin greeting people as he did each Sunday, asking them which floor they needed. I see Art and Henry standing at a door that's a little off the beaten path, but where they faithfully served for decades.

When we greet one another during the service, I still see Vera Mae seated behind me. Vera Mae served as the pastor's secretary for well over 40 years - make that the pastors' secretary. She served two different pastors during her working years at our church and stayed on a little longer than she probably would have preferred in order to help a third pastor through his first couple of months on staff.I cannot imagine a better role model for serving the Lord in singleness.Vera Mae loved the Lord, and she loved people.

When I talk to one of my friends, I can picture his parents teaching me when I was in kindergarten. It was his dad who I first remember teaching me not to worry about a literal time frame with God, to whom a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day.

When I look up in the balcony, I see my own family sitting together on the second row. There's another family sitting there now, and I pray those kids - who are now young adults - will have memories of our church that are as fond as my own. And I pray that they will realize that the church is not brick and mortar, but rather people who will fill their memories - for it is those people who make up the church.

I don't come from a tradition that celebrates All Saints Day, but it still seems appropriate to remember these giants of faith today, for they are among the saints of the church - both known and unknown. These are the people who shared their love for the Lord with me. And I thank my God each time I remember them.

Until next time,

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." ~ Hebrews 12:1


  1. Beautiful, Margaret :-)

    In my parents' church, I was confirmed and married - the church has undergone renovations since those days, when I attend services with them I don't recognize anyone anymore - most of the people there don't remember me, but remember my younger siblings. But I still look around and find the grown children and the grandchildren -

  2. caused me to think quite a bit! thank you for sharing!!

  3. Oh I think that anyone who was raised in a church family will connect with this wonderful post. Your memories stirred quite a few of my own. (On the other hand, I do think it's very important for "old" members of the church to listen to the "young" ones.)

  4. this is my new favorite post! how perceptive, heartwarming,
    and clever. that is one of our best loved movies.

    our church is very old, too and filled with the memories of
    the saints that have gone before us.

  5. "...we can see people who are long gone, people from our past who have impacted our lives, people who played a role in building our faith."

    Ah, yes...

    The echoes of the people we love stay on with us. I always think of my loved ones on All Saints Day. The church I went to as a little girl was called All Saints Anglican Church. What memories!

  6. A number of friends from church have told me that they appreciated this post since they remember many of the people I mentioned. I'm so glad to know that you all relate to it, as well. They're wonderful memories.

    Vee - my next post will indirectly address the last part of your comment.