On Trinity Sunday this year, I did not have the strength to lead worship. I needed to be present with my wife and children to grieve and rest. This May brought unexpected heartbreak, a shock we were not prepared following the anticipation of new life we had entering the spring.
This past March I came to Apostles on an ordinary Lenten Sunday with an exciting family announcement. This would be the day I would share the news with our church family that my wife and I were expecting our third child. It’s not easy to catch people off-guard with your third pregnancy announcement. I’d already used two of the more creative ways of telling people we’re expecting a baby. Even though I didn’t catch many people by surprise, the mutual joy we experienced with our church family was no different than our previous two pregnancies.
On Trinity Sunday a few weeks ago, I made another pregnancy announcement to our church family. We experienced the loss of our pregnancy. Having two pregnancy terms that were perfectly normal, this news came as a shock to us. It was not the surprising announcement a priest ever wishes to share, especially from his own family. My wife and I had purposefully shared the news of our pregnancy early in term, knowing we would need the care of our church family should we experience suffering or loss in pregnancy.
I wrote an announcement for one of my assisting priests to read as a pastoral letter at the beginning of worship. I knew I couldn’t lead worship that Sunday, yet sharing our loss in community was essential.
Our conviction to share this loss in community has never waned. What has been difficult is to receive care.
I’m accustomed to giving care. God has called me to serve this church and her people. I’m the one who listens, speaks a word of encouragement, prays with men and women in their difficulty. I love tracing the cross on the foreheads of the wounded and weary, imposing oil that proclaims in its fragrant aroma ‘Christ is here.’ I love the opportunity to offer the Body and Blood of Christ, distributing bread and wine to our church family. I’m comfortable giving care. It’s strange to receive it. Which is strange to say, because before I became a priest, I’ve always been a human being who simply needs grace himself.
Learning to Receive Love
The Saturday before Trinity Sunday, I’m speaking to one of my assisting priests about preparation for the following day. In one conversation, I shared with our newly ordained priest, John Roop:
“I’m no good at receiving care. But I know I need to. And I’m going to need your help to receive the love we need from our church.”
John is already an excellent priest because he walks with me in my awkwardness, speaking encouragement, listening for the Spirit’s direction.
I want to find a concrete way for people to show us care, but it’s not easy. We didn’t have many visible needs in the days of recovery following our loss. Our greatest needs are invisible, carrying the waves of grief within, the involuntary thoughts, the pangs of loss. Then the Spirit gives light, saying ‘ask the people to write the prayers they are praying for you.’ To know people are praying for you is one comfort, but to read their written prayers, to overhear their intercessions on your behalf, is to receive countless comforts in the Lord. I write John an email asking, ‘Would you ask the people to write and send us the prayers they pray for us?’
Sunday Without A Stole
A little later that Saturday, I’m speaking with another assisting priest, Laird Bryson, about the arrangements for Trinity Sunday. After we’ve covered all the arrangements for worship at Apostles, I change the conversation to a question I know I need to ask. My voice goes a little shaky and I’m feeling slightly awkward. Seems to be a theme for the day in addition to the grieving. I ask to receive communion in my home. Our family needs communion, but I won’t be the one wearing the stole. I can’t be the one wearing the stole this Trinity Sunday.
The name ‘father’ has carried a double meaning ever since I was ordained in 2008, but on Trinity Sunday this year, that name carried a singular meaning. I needed to hold my wife’s hand, show my daughter where we are in the liturgy, and hold my son in my lap. Seated on our couch, the bread goes around our living room, coming to us, a family of four huddled together. The cup passes our lips. The bread and wine pass to a few dear friends who represent a few hundred more dear friends. I’m tasting the goodness of God without my collar on, without my stole. Before I became a priest, before I became a father, before I became a husband, my first name has always been ‘son.’ How good it is to return to that first name, especially when I need the Father and his family the most.
Photo: “Edvard Munch – The sick child (1907) – Tate Modern” by Edvard Munch – http://www.flickr.com/photos/28433765@N07/13581965624. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons