Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 11, 2020

We as a people love to grumble, right? Grumbling seems to be part of us as human beings. We used to grumble about going to work, or having to get a haircut, or even going to church! “Oh, man, do I HAVE to get up to go to Mass today?!” “I want to stay in bed another hour!”

And, how often we took things for granted! A walk in the park, a vacation on the beach, the touch of a hand, the hug from our own mother, an unexpected visit from a friend, a drink together with neighbors on an outdoor deck, running into a store without a facemask on or gloves or anxiety! Now, it has all but been stripped away from us.

Oh, sure, it will make its way into our lives. Work will return, restrictions lifted, and haircuts will come more regularly. Churches will gather and God will be praised in community. We will return to whatever a ‘normal’ life is, but will be changed? Will we appreciate what we have; what we almost lost for good? Will we stop all of our grumblings?

This past week we pushed forward on our planned and discussed Sanctuary renovations. Truth be know, we actually had always planned, since we purchased the property some six years ago, to remove pews and add chairs to allow versatility of space and a liturgy more ‘Saint Miriam’. Now, unexpectedly, we need chairs to permit safe distancing. (It is hard to distance in pews, especially when the center needs to move over the ends!) We had planned to do this at a time of calm, but now we need to do so in the midst of anxiety.

Over this period, as pastor, I have been hard at work to provide us all with a safe worship experiences, despite our not being able to gather in person. We have added countless Virtual Gatherings, Small Groups, Reader and Serving options, and Masses, too. We increased our livestream and even added an FM Broadcast capability. We are hard at work and yet this past week, still more grumbling.

The pews will be removed and stored now onsite at Saint Miriam. Change comes and I recognize that change can cause some anxiety, but some change will be better than we might expect, if we only give it a chance and allow God room to breathe on us. This change was decided long ago after much prayer and discernment and over an extended period of time. The plans were made, the parish board voted, and the ministry team agreed. In fact, over 98% of the parish agreed. But, to be mindful and respectful of those who like the pews, we had always planned a few ways to honor them and to maintain them in some meaningful way as part of what was at our parish.

For instance, the pews in the main hallway will remain, as will the two ‘pew chairs’ in the handicap access hallway. Secondly, the pew on the right side of the back section inside the Sanctuary will also remain. And, the new free-standing Tabernacle will be constructed from the wood of one of the pews. Finally, we are adding a wall of Votive Candles on the rear left side of the Sanctuary and these, too, are being made from the wood of an actual pew! What better way to shed light than to light a candle and say a prayer and remain a hospitable and loving people?

I had the chance to speak to a former pastor at Zion. I was informed that the current pews are not close to the originals and were actually put in during a renovation in the late 1960’s (when all the original and beautiful hardware was stripped away, too)! Sadly, the actual and more valuable and historical pews were not only removed, they were burned in the parking lot! (I am sure there was a lot of grumbling!)

Over the years, I think that we made good decisions; this will be one of those. Some decisions and changes are not always popular, but we always make them with the best interest of others and the community and our future needs, too. I wonder what it says of us if we refuse to help the church because we would rather have a pew, instead of chair?  More deeply, what does it say of us if we refuse to give a chair for a visitor, or burden the minority with added chairs to purchase because we withhold our contribution? I suppose our grumblings and our own self-interest outweigh even the hallmark of the gospel: hospitality.

St. Francis once reminded us, “Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these, they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”

I wonder if what I asked way back at the original announcement still needs to be asked again?

Is the hardwood of a pew more important that the hardwood of the cross?


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