Come Share the Spirit — Joel Swan

Good morning!

This week, it’s my turn. In all honesty, I thought I was safe. Pastor Anne helped me volunteer to be the Spiritual Leader for the Building Campaign. She has that special way of helping people volunteer. Once I learned that the Spiritual Leader merely had to get others to give inspirational talks, I was breathing easy. But somewhere along this journey, I decided that maybe I did have something to share

I grew up in a small town south of Boston going to a Methodist church. All of my family went to church together, because in those days, Sunday was a day for families. It was my favorite day of the week. I would watch the Davey and Goliath show, walk to church, listen to the sermon and sing all those great Methodist hymns. I’d walk home still humming them many times.

Once home, we’d have a big Sunday dinner and then visit with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Once in college, going to church often meant going alone. More times than not, I found that it didn’t feel like the same service. They didn’t do things the same way. Sometimes, the Gloria Patri had a different tune and other times, they didn’t even sing the Doxology!

After college, Sharon and I were married in her family’s Catholic church and we moved to Texas. For a few months, we alternated between different Catholic and Methodist churches in and around Dallas trying to find the right church for both of us. I never felt at home. Little by little, I just stopped going.

Fast forward a few years, and we moved to Gloucester and started raising our family. We decided that our children would be raised Catholic. It saddened me as they moved through the various stages of their faith, celebrating first communions and confirmations, knowing that it was something I couldn’t share with them.

And then, it all started to change. You see, Sharon and my daughter Meredith had known Miranda and little Rebecca from their times together swimming at the Y. Sharon attended the dedication of Rebecca’s Playground and upon coming home, suggested that maybe this was a church I could attend. We joked a little bit about how even though the church was Lutheran, I always did like that Davey and Goliath show. I put it off for a few weeks and then decided to visit and see for myself. I didn’t expect much at first.

The outside of the church looked very much like many of the other churches I had visited on Cape Ann. I came early and sat in the parking lot for a long time, trying to decide if it was really worth taking a chance. Besides, I didn’t know which door to go in. As some of the newer members can attest, going to a new church for the first time can be a little unsettling. I decided to try the front side door and timed my walk so that I could go in with a crowd. I tried to walk in as if I knew where I was going. That’s when I met Ken Brink for the first time. In the way that only Ken could, he noticed me coming in, introduced himself and began ushering me in the right direction. With that twinkle in his eyes, he told me that he would love to talk with me after the service was over.

I made my way to one of the pews in the back, which are better to hide in and sat all the way on the right end. I’m glad I did because those lovely ladies that followed me in really seemed to want the other end. (By the way, they still let me sit in their pew.) I started to feel a little more comfortable, especially when I recognized one of the hymns listed in the bulletin. But then, the confusion started. The bulletin was listing pages as LBW and WOV but the pastor was talking about green books and blue books. (This was before we had green, blue and red books). Then there was her spiel about individual cups and the common cup. But this was the middle of the month.

Growing up as a Methodist, we only celebrated communion on the first Sunday of each month! I started to wonder if it was too late to sneak out the back door. But those ladies to my left were keeping an eye on me. And then there was that Ken guy with the twinkling eyes.

So here we are, four or five years later. My time here at Saint Paul has changed my life in more ways than I can even begin to count. I became an usher, after making the mistake of cleaning up the pews after church one Sunday. (Some woman named Joanne suggested that I was “usher material”.) I learned more about the Bible by helping to lead a couple of Bible studies. Pastor Anne suggested that I should volunteer. It all started to come together for me a couple of years ago when I was volunteered again to help wash feet on Maundy Thursday. That was most likely the first time I had truly experienced grace, truly shared the Spirit.

Many Sundays, you’ll find me down back, helping to usher people into the church. All too often, I’ve seen the look on people’s faces after they’ve struggled to climb the few short steps at the side entrance, only to see that there are still more steps to go. This has been especially evident during many of the memorial services of the past year. Building the Dream will fix this problem.

There is a liveliness to this congregation which is not always visible to visitors. Then again, that might just be a result of the Finnish roots of many of the members. The openness of the new addition will help that liveliness bubble out onto the street. The redesign of the entryway will practically invite passers-by to join us.

My hope is that this Dream of ours will not only make the church much more accessible but that it will become a place that we use more often during the week. I sense that we’re moving in that direction. There are new families joining almost weekly, the Sunday school program is expanding. We should be able to hold more adult and youth programs and perhaps we can even start up a Men’s Ministry. Things are going to change. Some whom have been at Saint Paul most of their lives might feel uncomfortable with the changes. I’ve already heard of one member remark that he “didn’t know many of the people anymore”.

But think about that. What a wonderful problem to have. As Stan said, “What an opportunity!”. I’d like to leave you with a reading we read almost monthly in the Methodist church whenI was growing up. It’s has taken on a new meaning for me since coming to Saint Paul.

A reading from the third chapter of Collosians. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

For now though, I’ll continue to help at the back of the church welcoming people at the door, always looking for that person that just might need a little ushering into this great family at Saint Paul.I don’t have that twinkle in my eyes yet but some day, just maybe, I will.That twinkle which seems to say “Come on in! Come Share the Spirit!”

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