On Saturday, St. Andrew's celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the Laying of the Cornerstone of our beautiful building. It is our third home, but the milestone is important. It means that there have been Christians learning how to be disciples of Jesus Christ on our corner for 150 years. And for those last 150 years, these disciples have been sent out of our building, into the community, to share the good news of Jesus Christ. An important anniversary to be sure. So we planned a big day.
Bishop Laura came to preside at our celebratory worship. She reminded us in her sermon what it means when we say yes to our Baptismal Covenant, and what it means to be part of a Christian community. She encouraged us to wrestle here, at church, in our sacred space, with scripture and with the teachings of the apostles; and to learn from the example of people like Peter, to understand that we won't get it 100% right all the time. Then we shared communion, as generations of faithful people have in our space for 150 years.
After worship, we went out into the parking lot which had been roped off for hours. A dedicated team of folks had been cooking all morning. They made salads the night before. They hauled tables and chairs out into the sunshine. And the whole neighborhood smelled like barbecue. We had invited musicians from our great cathedral in Hartford to come and sing for us - and the sound filled the air - causing our neighbors to come and ask what was going on. Most importantly, at our Food Pantry the week before, we handed out invitations, saying that everyone was welcome to come to our picnic.
And we sat together. And shared a different kind of communion. Members of our parish, from those who were baptized in our building, to those who joined only very recently worked very hard to prepare this beautiful meal - and we all shared fellowship with our neighbors. It was a glorious day. And as I moved through the crowd of some 250 people, I believe I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Gathered at the tables were people of every race, of many ethnicities and religions, ranging in age from the tiniest of infants up to folks in their 80s or 90s. We were drawn from many different countries, many different cultures, and we live in many different rhythms and styles. We speak different languages, wear different clothes, and love different people. And yet, here we were. At many long tables, sharing a meal together. In peace. In harmony. In the bright, beautiful sunshine.
Over and over again, folks would stroll in and stand sort of hesitantly at the borders of our parking lot - and one of us, sometimes me, sometimes one of our members, would stride over, waving them in saying, "Come in. Please have something to eat." Some came because they heard the music. Others because they could smell the chicken. Most told me they came because they heard our laughter. There were kids running around - drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. There were rainbows and butterflies all over. And there was face-painting - so soon there were little pirates and superheroes running around - not to mention the bees. Our Bishop led us in singing happy birthday to the church - and then cut the cake to the cheers of quite a few children.
It was a safe place. Where all of God's people were welcomed in - to join in the feast - with no exceptions and no strings attached. And it was a beautiful thing to behold.
The following day, in my sermon, I suggested that this kind of hospitality, this kind of joy is the true legacy of our building. Because it isn't after all the church of stone and glass that Jesus came to build - but the church of flesh and blood; each one of us a living stone in the temple that is Christ's body in the world, with Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. We who come into the space made of stone and glass are able to worship and pray as generations before us, but like them, we leave the space to return to the real work of our lives - the real vocation of our faith - to be the vessels of God in the world. The hands, heart, and feet of Christ - sent out to create community, to respect the dignity of every human being, to seek justice and speak peace to all of God's people.
So it was, I think, especially fitting on this anniversary to worship in our beautiful space. To give thanks for the generations of people who came before us, who built on the foundations laid by the apostles and prophets; and then to step outside our walls. To create safe space for others - to know each other and to know the love of God. To be the church - to be the sanctuary - for those who do not have it - outside our walls. To be living stones - convening community for Christ's sake - and building up (in our little corner of the world) an image, a glimpse of the Kingdom now.
None of us can do it alone, and none of us can sustain it forever. To have the kingdom forever, Christ will need to come to us again. But I believe this is the work to which we're all called in Baptism - to create these spaces, to build these relationships, and to step out into the world to serve our neighbors now - offering peace and love - in the simple ways we can: long tables, red tablecloths, and a lot of barbecued chicken. At least, that's a good start for now.
The Rev. Marissa S. Rohrbach is an Episcopal priest and is currently serving as the Rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Meriden, Connecticut. The views expressed here are her own and do not represent the views of any other body or insititution.
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