For nearly 24 years, our family were active members of Central Baptist Church (CBC), an American Baptist congregation in Wayne, Pennsylvania. About four years ago, for reasons that are still not totally clear, we decided to look for a new church home. We ended up at our current faith community (Episcopalian), The Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, which is only a few miles west from Wayne.
While our move accomplished its purpose —recharge our spiritual batteries — leaving friends we had worked and worshiped with so long was difficult. Severing ties are difficult, especially when they are ties of fondness. Many at CBC helped smooth our emotions through expressions of disappointment but with understanding of the stirrings that precipitated our leaving. Although the decision felt (and feels) right, I often wondered how it might feel to return to that church some day, most likely for the funeral of a loved one.
That time did come a little over a year ago with the funeral of John (Bud) Carroll. Bud was a special guy and friend. Although an ordained American Baptist pastor, at CBC he was simply a parishioner. He had a special gift of being able to mesh his strong faith with the realities of serving in a church and living in the real world. I fondly remember his phone call after receiving our letter that we were moving. He would miss us but totally understood. I wanted to be at Bud's funeral.
1928 - 2015
Driving to Wayne that day of the funeral, I wondered about the feelings we'd have going back: How would we be received? What about our feelings? Would we feel strained? Would we feel like outsiders? And, I hoped there would not be feelings of regret that we had made a mistake by leaving.
In short, it was all good. Folks seemed glad to see us and have a chance to reconnect. It felt good to see friends and the place that had been our spiritual home. It just all felt good ... and right ... both the past and the present.
Sitting in the padded pew chairs during the prelude music time, I looked up and saw the big, wooden cross ... a bit rugged, too ... that hangs from the ceiling of the Worship Commons. (The church constructed the cross using removed floor beams during the sanctuary's remodeling many years ago.) I felt some tears welling up as I looked at that cross. As if on a movie director's cue, my mind's scene shifted to our new church home and a very similar big wooden cross that hangs over the altar; the rugged cross with the Alpha and Omega symbols hanging from the ends of the horizontal beam. The two crosses. Two homes.
Then came the opening hymn, Bud's favorite: Great is Thy Faithfulness! The two crosses and stirring hymn ... I then felt more than just a couple of tears. And my mind (and emotions) started drifting back, farther west in distance and further in time ... to Wyoming.
Although there wasn't another big cross involved, during the hymn I thought back to our move from Wyoming and our American Baptist church there to Pennsylvania. In looking forward to what we hoped for in our new location, we were resigned to the reality that we'd probably never have the warm, stimulating church experience that we had in Glenrock Community Baptist Church. How wrong we were! CBC became so special. And now Church of the Good Samaritan is special.
"Great is Thy faithfulness," O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. ... Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!Great is Thy Faithfulness was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisolm (1866-1960). It is based on Lamentations 3, especially 3:22-23. (See more in Resources.)
Although I write these spiritual reflections, do feel close to God, and try to have a sense of the Divine One, I rarely think I feel directly God's guiding hand. I am often frustrated wanting to hear That Voice, but not hearing anything I recognize. I envy those who experience a day-to-day leadership by the Almighty. But, the funeral experience with the crosses and the hymn made me realize that even though I don't sense the directness of God's hand, I do KNOW that God is faithful, and has been with me.
Perhaps it is only in the long haul, in the looking back, that one truly does see the hand of God. Jesuits emphasize one type of meditation that includes a component called the Examen (the original Spanish name). It means an examination of consciousness, which is a simple prayer usually done before going to bed.
Basically, the examen consists of a review of one's day in an atmosphere of asking for God's grace. In The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. James Martin, S.J., HarperOne, 2010. Discussion of the Examen is found in Chapter 4 Beautiful Yesterdays. author Fr. James Martin SJ says you can think of this review as a movie playing in your head. Although you have already experienced the day, you may have forgotten or missed much. "Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings tastes, textures, conversations," writes Martin. "Each moment offers a window into where God has been in your day."
Perhaps my realizing God's faithfulness over the years while sitting in that pew with the wooden cross overhead is explained by Martin where he writes, "The examen builds on the insight that it's easier to see God in retrospect rather than in the moment." Maybe that is true not only in reviewing the short span of our day, but also over the longer ages of our life. In that moment at the funeral, although I cannot say I had recognized it or had even been aware of it, I now knew that God has been faithful to me, that God has walked with me.
While I know that God has been faithful, I really don't know how or in what ways. Did I just sense that it was time to leave Wyoming, or did God speak that to me? If God spoke, I don't recall hearing the words. Did God intervene and rig the system so that I would end up disappointed and second-best for the job I really wanted in Kentucky ... and then convince the school folks in Wayne to select me as their top choice for middle school principal? Did God stir us to want to leave Central Baptist Church? Were there divine hands steering the car when during our "church hunting" we seemed almost on a whim to pull into the parking lot at The Church of the Good Samaritan and look around?
I really have no idea how God is involved in these types of things. But, I do know that God promises to be with us ... wherever and whenever. And, whether we are aware of it or not, God is faithful to that promise. To know, trust, and believe in that is sufficient for me. "Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!"
Thanks, Bud Carroll. Through your life you modeled what a man of God can be like. That faith need not be pious and somber, but could be spiced with humor and fun. When I had a tough decision to make, you were there with kind words of support and understanding. And, at your funeral, your favorite hymn helped renew my faith that the hymn is not just good words and nice music: It is God's Truth! "Great is Thy Faithfulness!"