Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Last week I took an Amtrak ride to Philadelphia after work to attend an evening gathering of female authors, bloggers, entrepreneurs and social justice advocates. The night was a series of TED Talks by brave and gifted women about how they discerned their gifts and found their causes and communities of meaning-making. At the end of the night, my spouse and I walked back to the Amtrak station for a late train back to DC. As we waited on the platform, we noticed a young adult woman looking right at us. Slowly and gracefully, she walked toward us and said, “I saw you both on the train coming here from DC. I guess we are all having the same great and late night.” She was inspired by the event, as were we. Quickly, we started to share our life stories. I said I was a priest and my wife added that she was a professor at VTS. The young woman’s face nearly exploded into a contagious smile: “I’m an Episcopalian too! But only in the last few years.”
We learned she is 28 years old. She was married last year. Her new husband is a pilot in the Marine Corps and is currently on a two-year deployment in a constant-combat zone over Afghanistan. She was just promoted at her downtown job in communications. She doesn’t mind more hours at work because her apartment often feels very empty. She looked very tired. She admitted worrying about her husband every night. She misses her family in New England. She’s only been in DC for three years. Her office peers drink more than she enjoys. She finds it hard to spend time in nature. She loves to sing in church and made sure every person in her wedding was “holding a hymnal in the service, because I am a terrible singer but singing hymns with other people heals me.”
She couldn’t stop telling us about her church, one of our parishes in the Diocese of Washington. She is in a bible study. She has prayer partners that check in on her during the week. A pastoral care committee knows her husband is deployed and offers to cook meals for her at any time.Her face looked healthier and happier with every story. She loves the priest assigned to the young adult ministries and he has visited her, blessed her new apartment with her bible study group and calls bi-weekly to check in about her husband and their marriage. She has hiked and marched for justice and picked apples and done community service with multigenerational groups and trips at her church.
Her face looked healthier and happier with every story. I finally interrupted her testimonies about church and asked how she came to join that church. Her answer was simple: “Someone invited me.”
As we parted to enter different cars on the train, she smiled and said something about her church that I will remember for years to come: “My church shields my joy.”
As she walked away, I felt so grateful to God for the gift of her words, for they articulate so powerfully why the health and strength and witness of churches in the diocese are crucial and transformative. Among other blessings, our churches can be sanctuaries that shield the joy of our members and visitors, no matter how trying or overwhelming life can be. The impact of inviting someone to church can make all the difference in the world.
Invite someone to church.