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Fifth Sunday Faith Sharing - Kathleen Appleby, 12/29/19
December 31, 2019, 10:00 AM

Rev. Foley asked me to speak for a few minutes this morning about how my spiritual life is just now. I think I know where I am at present,

but if you will indulge me for 5 minutes, I will try to explain how I got to this point.

STEP ONE I was born into an Anglican family of the “hatch, match and dispatch” persuasion. In other words, church was for baptisms, weddings and funerals – but not for Sunday worship – though I vaguely recall being sent off to Sunday School occasionally when I was old enough to take my younger sister along.

We were daring and went to a Salvation Army Hall a couple of times and found the music to be much more stirring than the hymns at the local parish church.

STEP TWO Then I met a nice young man who attended a High Anglican church every Sunday with his whole family. Eventually I went to church with them and, by the time we were married, I was quite involved in the practical side of parish life – doing crafts for the annual bazaar, going to church suppers and the like, and attending Sunday services. I liked the dignified ritual and prayers, the singing, the chanting, the incense, the robes and, of course, watching the nice young man serving at the altar. But wasn’t that all just surface stuff? Shouldn’t I feel different, changed somehow?

Next, we moved to Eastern Long Island for two years and, of course, joined the local Episcopal Church. There, true to form, I jumped right in – sang in the choir, did all the “busy ladies” stuff and even started a Parochial School.

But, the Priest was preparing a class for Confirmation (children and adults) and he assumed that I would be part of it. So….STEP THREE - I was Confirmed and thought, at the ripe old age of 25, that I now knew all about being a REAL Christian.

After a couple of years back in Britain we returned to the United States permanently and I plunged into Church life at St. Andrew’s, Plainfield – Choir, Rummage Sales, ECW meetings – business as usual. However, a year’s sabbatical in Moraga, California at St. Giles Church became STEP FOUR in my learning about my relationship with God. It was a small group (about 20) meeting in a rented space, holding monthly “home church” communion services followed by a communal meal, and this way of “doing church” was very meaningful to me. I was sorry to leave it behind.

1977. We returned to New Jersey and joined St. Paul’s, Bound Brook – at that time a large congregation. 10:00 am service – singing in the choir, helping at rummage sales, the annual bazaar, ECW meetings, serving on the Vestry, Thanksgiving Dinners for the needy – (leading to Lunch On Us), teaching 4th grade Sunday School – it seemed I/we were doing all the right things but I was still missing something in my church life. What?

Fast forward to 2019. I was talking to Rev. Foley one day and I said that I thought, because I often felt closer to God in wide open spaces that I must be a Pantheist. She corrected me and said she thought I meant PanANtheist – someone who sees God in everything. Then I realized that I DO feel that I’m getting an idea of God whenever I’m in a quiet space -like a moorland, or in mountains, or by a body of water, or in a big cathedral or a small, quiet church. In fact, whenever the Nice Young Man and I visit family in the U.K., we make a kind of pilgrimage to the ancient cathedral of Durham and the tomb of the 7th century saint, the Venerable Bede, just to stand silently, and pray.

So, a few years ago, we decided to also visit Bede’s church and ruined abbey in the town of Jarrow. It was a weekday morning in September and as we entered, the Sexton, who was going about his tasks, put a finger to his lips and pointed toward the altar where a group of about 12 7 or 8-year-olds, all dressed in miniature monks robes, were seated quietly listening to their teacher and watching intently as she pointed out various things around the church. After 10 minutes or so she led them out, silently and reverently, presumably to visit the ruined abbey next door.

It was really quite moving to observe these little ones. Later, as we were leaving, we remarked to the Sexton how well-behaved and respectful these children had been. “Oh, well,” he said “she’s a clever lass, that one, she brings her new class here every year and never has any bother with them.” “Mind you”, he said “the first thing she does after they get all dressed up is, she makes them take a Vow of Silence”.

I’ve often thought of that little incident with a smile over the years but, just recently wondered if it might have been a clue to my personal STEP FIVE in my search for something other than business as usual.

SILENCE – a special kind of silence, maybe that’s what I’ve been looking for.

SILENCE - to hear God.

SPACE – to find God and to be found

SERENITY – to be with God.

Lately, (as well as at regular Sunday worship), I have found all these and more in the Wednesday noon communion services, and I’m so grateful for that. I hope and pray that I’m getting closer to glimpsing the ESSENCE, the ESSENTIAL, the distilled truth of Faith- at least as it seems to me.

I don’t know how many more steps there might be in my Christian journey, (it seems I’m a slow learner!) but I hope to take them in the St. Paul’s Church community.

And I realize that many other words that capture my growing understanding of what it means to be a Christian are S -words – and they describe so many Strengths of this congregation and its leadership. They are….. in no particular order…. Support, Sacrifice, Sharing, Serenity, Scholarly Sermons, Service to others, Survival, Sage advice, Struggle, Sympathy…..and I’m sure you can think of more – when you have a few moments of Solitary Silence ----Soon.

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