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Coming Home: to a Place We’ve Never Been Before?

It has been interesting for me to note, even from a couple thousand miles away, the differences that have been taking place at St. Stephen’s. I’m thinking specifically about the chancel at St. Stephen’s: if I’m not mistaken, I saw two new lamps, one on each side of the altar. I smiled and thought to myself, Well, that sure dresses up the chancel just a bit. And then I looked again and thought, Are those new paraments? Pretty spiffy!

Something new. New lights and new paraments pointing out to me something that I’ve always known to be true, but still often need to be reminded of: how things stay the same, and yet how things are constantly changing. And the changes mean that St. Stephens’s is more than a solid edifice; it is an institution that grows, is dynamic, is continually evolving. And new lamps and new paraments are not the only things that change, dynamically and steadily. The kids that I saw a few years ago as toddlers are growing up; new people have come into the congregation and have taken on leadership roles; I have been saddened by the deaths in the last years, some of whom I have recognized as members as long as I’ve had consciousness of St. Stephen’s.

I’ve sensed this more poignantly as we’ve come through and now begun to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic. We have not been together for more than a year; I’ve been away from St. Stephen’s for much longer than that. And yet: even though from Sunday to Sunday for many months, the Casavant organ has been silent, the “church” has continued, and grown, and changed, and even gotten brighter, as it waited to welcome us back to oh-so-very-quietly mouth the praise of God. Because the “church” has been there; and we’ve learned perhaps in new ways that “the church” is not simply the building that stands at the corner of Thirteenth and Broom: as an old hymn puts it, “Surely in temples built with hands, God the most high is not dwelling”. The “church” is the people: and not just the people who gather around the altar standing in the chancel with the altar decked with new paraments and lit by new lamps, but the people in service for others, bringing the message and God’s ministry outside the walls and into Trolley Square, feeding those who need food, bringing entertainment to those who hunger also for cultural nourishment. I live a ways away from the rest of the congregation, but I have also been blessed by the ministry of which we are all a part.

Another hymn that comes to mind: “Great is thy faithfulness.” The hymn was inspired by the Lamentations of Jeremiah, who saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the people of God led into captivity. After seventy years they returned to a city that had been ruined and altered – and those who came back, had themselves been radically changed.

So, we come back: and we, too, have been changed. We come back to a building that has been refreshed and changed … and yet we come back in service to God who has been unrelentingly steadfast in faithfulness: and whose faithfulness summons us in turn to faithfulness. Thank God!

The Rev. Allen Heggen


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