Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Weekend Assignment #245: Thanks Be to All

It's the night before Thanksgiving, and the last day to answer this Thanksgiving-related question:

Thanksgiving is upon us, the time of year when we're asked what we're thankful for. Let's take the opportunity to interpret this literally, and actually thank someone! Tell us about someone in your life, past or present, whom you would like to thank for what they did, and why.

Extra Credit: Suggest a Weekend Assignment topic, because I'm running dry! Also: would you prefer that the topics be mostly literary, or is a variety better?

I've been thinking all week about who I'd like to thank. John? One or both of my parents? My brother, who used to cheer me up when my parents argued across the hall from my room? Some teacher? A writer? An actor? A politician?

Well, of course I'm thankful to John, my husband and beat friend for the last 31 1/2 years; but an entry in tribute to him would be tricky for me to write, and embarrassing to him rather than gratifying.I've written entries about each of my parents, my brother and at least one writer. As for politicians, well, even the best of them can be a disappointment.

No, I think I'd better go with thanking the people of the Episcopal Parish of St. Michael and All Angels. Don't worry; I'm not here to convert you or anything.

From St. Michael's Slideshow

My first visit to St. Michael's was sometime around 1997. I hadn't been to a church in years, on the theory that until I knew what I believed it didn't make sense to go to church and mouth words with which I disagreed. I was a lapsed Catholic, sort of raised to be a lapsed Catholic because my mom had been deeply ambivalent about the Church since long before I was born. But I was reading religious nonfiction by Madeleine L'Engle, and coming to realize that I'd never come to any decisions about religion without making the slightest effort in that direction. L'Engle was an Episcopalian, as was a friend of mine from my high school and college years. It seemed like a pretty benign denomination, most of the good stuff about the Roman Catholic Church without any of that pesky conservatism about birth control which drove my mom away in the 1940s. The first female Episcopal priest (I think) was at Syracuse University, an innovation that counted in its favor. And conveniently, there was an Episcopal Church just a few miles up Wilmot from me. It had a sign out front, "Jesus was a refugee." I liked that. So I worked up the nerve and went to church there one Sunday.

Father John Smith

Two things happened that first day. One, I found that the Mass, albeit tricky to follow because it involved switching back and forth between two books and a leaflet, was close enough to the ritual I'd grown up with to be comfortingly familiar. Two, and more important, two different people from the parish took it upon themselves to greet me and introduce themselves. One was a parishioner about my own age, Suzanne. The other was the rector, Father John Smith. He'd been at St. Michael's for about a year. Buoyed by this welcome, I returned the next week, and the week after, and on and on.

Not that I'm just a parishioner. One year, Father Smith called for volunteers to help with Mass, as acolytes (what I used to call "altar boys" growing up) and as lectors (readers of the Bible lesson for each week). I signed up for both. Through that, I made the acquaintance of Proscovia King, the Master of Ceremonies who trains and directs the acolytes and helps out at very nearly all the masses. Born in Africa, Proscovia grew up in England, where her mother was chief acolyte at Canterbury, I believe. I also became friendly with other acolytes, from high school students to University professors and staff.

In 2004, Father Smith started taking about the parish being on BlogSpot. I didn't quite know what that was yet, and when I asked about it, he put me in charge of the thing. From there it was a short step to becoming the parish webmaster. At the same time, I started to get into digital photography, and was soon taking pictures of major church functions to post online. This brought me in contact with other parishioners as well. Somewhere in there, my friend Kevin started riding to church with me, and we started to develop a small circle of friends who usually sat together at Coffee Hour after mass. For somebody like me who doesn't socialize much, this was a big deal!

Alicia Basemann and Nancy Vernon

But my integration into the life of the parish and its people took a big leap forward at the beginning of 2009. My job at First Magnus was long over, I'd been laid off at Beaudry and at that time lacked even a temp job, except for four disastrous days in January as a tax accountant inside a check cashing store in which nefarious things were taking place. An auditor had called for the parish to bring in a second bookkeeper to make the weekely deposit. Was I interested in the job? Well yes, of course! So bookkeeper Pat Strawn and Parish administrator Nancy Vernon showed me the ropes, and I put in a few hours a week at the church office. When Pat quit at the end of June, I took her place as parish bookkeeper.

On paper it was a step down from my various staff accountant jobs, but for me it was a godsend. I was making a little money to keep my unemployment from running out as quickly, it gave me nonprofit accounting experience for my resume and I had a place to go in the afternoons. Just as important, though, I was even more a part of this community. The two parish administrators, Alicia Basemann and Nancy Vernon, became my friends and confidantes, and I saw a bit more of Father Smith, whom I admire. Pat Miller replaced me on the weekly deposits, so I got to work with her as well. The parish has a number of volunteers, also, many of whom answer phones in the church office, prepare food bags for the poor and so on. Nearly all of them are twenty or thirty years my senior, but I've gotten to know each of them a bit as well.

Between carrying a candle or a cross in church, taking pictures, hanging out at coffee hour, doing the books and attending vestry meetings, I've become a rather well-known character at St. Michael's, and in turn have learned the names of many of the other parishioners and a little bit about some of their lives. I feel welcomed, appreciated. I'm part of something, a community with common purpose, not just worshipping God and drinking coffee together, but helping the poor, fighting for social justice and so on. It's not really within my character to go out on protests or travel to Guatemala with Ila Abernathy to help displaced Mayans, but I'm very proud to be at least tangentially associated with such activities.

So thank you, people of St. Michael's. Thank you, Father John and Father Ed, Nancy, Alicia and Pat, Ila, Les and Jim, another Les and another Jim, Jan and Mary and Kevin. Thank you, Proscovia, Jane and Toni Sue, Jo and Mike and the other Mike, Margaret and the other Margaret, and the lady whose name I can never remember but her son wrote a book about a Muslim boy who loves the Statue of Liberty. Thank you, Frances and another Mary, Robin and Al and Bob, and lots of other people I could name if this list weren't too long already. You've all enriched my life, and I'm very thankful for you all.

Happy Thanksgiving!


1 comment:

Jama said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Karen!