Showing Grace and Coming to Communion

Inside St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Photograph from the St. Mary’s Webpage: http://www.stmarysgoochland.org/ )

This May, my daughter, Eleanor, will receive her first communion. When I join my wife and daughter for Catholic Mass, Eleanor joins Katie to walk forward for communion in order to be blessed by the priest. I do not join them for communion because I am not a Catholic, I am an Episcopalian. As a result, I often have a minute to reflect on the significance of communion generally. Today’s service offered me such a moment.

When I was very young, we were members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church way out River Road in Richmond, Virginia. Though it has become a large church in the many intervening years, at the time it was still recognizable as an old mission church—a small 1870s white church-house with deep stained wooden pews. My memories of St. Mary’s are hazy—we left to join St. James’s when I was six—though several impressions are carved deep within me. Those memories include my grandfather’s booming and endearingly off-key hymn-singing voice and bright Spring time morning light, framed by the windows, illuminating sparks of dust.

One Sunday I walked up to the front with my parents for communion. As a small child, I should have stood when I reached the railing, but I kneeled and found myself looking through the balustrade at the gray pants legs of the gray-haired minister, Holt Sauder. I was embarrassed and confused to hear the congregation laughing—they found this entertaining. I did not. Reverend Souder did not laugh, but instead he kneeled and gave me the bread and the wine under the rail. Grace.

I came forward, awkward and uncertain, and he met me where I was. To me this was the essence of communion. Perhaps the gifts referenced as “The gifts of God for the people of God” are not just the bread and the wine but they are also the invitation to come to the table and the grace to welcome us to it.

Happy day after Easter!

9 thoughts on “Showing Grace and Coming to Communion

  1. bllbrwn423 April 9, 2012 / 10:36 am

    Nice. Thank you, Ross, for the wider view of the communion experience. Also, incidentally, Frank O’Connor’s short story, “First Confession,” came to mind during your description of looking through the balustrade. I see another story title in your piece: “Through the Balustrade.” Thanks again.

    • J Ross Peters April 9, 2012 / 11:02 am

      I look forward to reading “First Confession”–your recommendations so far have been great. “Through the Balustrade” has potential!

  2. fka1935 April 9, 2012 / 12:01 pm

    Hey, Ross: I am Juliet Allan’s father, retired bishop of Atlanta. When I was a priest in Macon, GA two little boys “slud” into the altar rail kneeler, as Dizzy Dean slud into third base. They got the giggles and couldn’t stop. When they came down from the altar rail, the grand matriarch of the parish grabbed them, shook them and said, “We don’t laugh in church.” As you recalled with affection your experience with Holt Souder, whom I knew, I wonder if these two little boys, long grown up, still have anything to do with the church, the place where no one is allowed to laugh.

    • J Ross Peters April 9, 2012 / 12:34 pm

      Frank,
      Thank you for reading and responding to my post. Quite an image of those two boys sliding into the rail!–sorry they had to pay such a price for laughter. By the way working with Juliet is one of the great pleasures of my job at Westminster.

  3. fka1935 April 9, 2012 / 12:02 pm

    Meant to say her father-in-law. Frank Allan

  4. peter scott April 9, 2012 / 2:11 pm

    Thanks, Ross,
    I like the sparks of dust. Holly and I went to visit Jake in England over break. Their village, Iffley, has its own little church, and it is 900 years old. We went to a service there; Holly went up for communion, but I did not. Presbyterians don’t kneel.
    Wish you was here.
    Peter

    • J Ross Peters April 9, 2012 / 2:27 pm

      Peter,

      Thanks for reading. So glad you and Holly made the trip to see Jake. Hope the spring has less than the usual amounts of mud up there. R

  5. margoslife April 16, 2012 / 12:54 am

    I love this story, Ross!

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