Every month, the service jobs in our church shift to a new group of volunteers. September is my group’s month and I requested to greet today, my parents’ anniversary. I hate greeting, truth told. It’s a form of punishment for extreme introverts like me. You have to smile at everyone, make extended eye contact, give and receive hugs (sometimes unexpected). You can smell people’s breakfast breath, they get so close. You can smell whether or not their suits have been hanging in a musky closet.
Today, I arrived at 10:40 and plastered myself against the wall in the far corridor (it’s way worse if you take the main corridor to the sanctuary). Then I did my job, trying to summon my mother, now ten years gone. Mom loved greeting. To me, it seemed like she did it every week. When images of her float through my mind, I always see her dressed in a red and black plaid Liz Claiborne outfit. Stockings, black low heels. Makeup, jewelry, a big smile shining off her face. In the Hall of Fame of Greeters, my mom would have her own commemorative bust. She was that good.
I tried, I sweated my way through it. I did it for her. And dad too, a steadfast servant at Southminster Church. Today would have been their 57th anniversary.
I snuck into service a tad late. And from the transept I could see the rest of the sanctuary facing the front of the church. One woman, with dementia, cleaning her nose with her finger. One man in a wheelchair. One man, nearly 100, curved over the hymnal, his back unable to straighten. One woman, just a bit older than me, facing early onset Alzheimer’s. She kept looking at me, because – I suspect – I have been to her church, I am a lesbian like her and her partner. I returned every gaze as if to tell her that she was here with us, in a new church to her, and she was welcome. She will always be welcome. I saw grandparents hugging their grandchildren. I saw a man who brought his new girlfriend. I saw a woman raise her hands in praise.
The offering song was a song whose lyrics I penned. Our Music Director wrote the music. It’s long and mystical and I always get a bit nervous when it is played. But I watched the congregation settle into it and I watched my minister, Lois, nod in affirmation when it was done. For most of the hymn, I buried my head in my hands and listened to what a younger me was trying to tell me on this day. My own words told me to be loving, quiet, patient, courageous.
After the hymn, several people from across the crowd and in the choir loft were trying to catch my eye, acknowledge their appreciation for my poem.
Then, in that moment, I felt like I was greeting the church – and by that I mean seeing them and being seen. The word “greet” comes from the old German word meaning “salute.” An act of honoring.
And I knew that standing at the door and shaking hands is not the way I contribute to my church. I’m not my mother, but I have within me her strong current of service. I am not my father, who could balance the books and do long term strategic planning with his gifts. I can serve by seeing people, accepting what they bring to altar and by writing (and sometimes speaking) words that tread on that sweet long arc to justice.
That’s what mom and dad were doing too, in their own ways, reaching out for justice with love, and planning ahead for justice with a calculator and a spreadsheet.
God bless, Sally Cowan and Bruce Reinhold. God bless their marriage. God bless their unbending commitment to doing good in the word. Happy anniversary, mom and dad. I love you.