It was an early Spring Sunday, in a small Midwestern town, and it was
8:20 am, an ungodly hour for a supposedly "godly" man and his wife. An
Episcopal Clergyman for many years, he had just retired, and this was
to be his first small church to watch over, now that he was free of a
regular work routine.
The Father (Priest) and his spouse of forty years arrived at the campus
of the small sectarian college, in which the little church held
services in the chapel. They arrived engulfed by a chilly, windy
downpour. Not knowing where to park or where to enter the building, I
got out of my car and ran from one side of the building to the next. I
checked this door and that, and finally found one open. After parking
our car, my wife and I gathered my vestments and hurried inside the
cold, damp building. No one seemed around at first, but then we saw
him at the end of the long hallway. He had his white vestments on, and
his huge belly was what was most noticeable about him. He had a Santa
Claus like beard, and dark piercing eyes; and he said nothing as we
approached him. We introduced ourselves and he very briefly replied in
a rather gruff and deep voice.
There was no welcome, no offer of help, no direction to the rest room,
just that dark stare. Who was this character? What in the world was I
getting myself into, I asked myself throughout that morning with the
very small congregation. What were they doing here in this chapel,
twelve of them in a room which could seat at least a couple of hundred.
And "K", as I will call him, what was he all about?
Some time later I visited him in his apartment on a sunny Tuesday
afternoon. He came to the door looking very startled, even rather
scared. There was no place to sit, he had to put back together a chair
that had fallen apart. Although church members had helped him get this
apartment and moved him in, it looked as though nothing had changed
since moving day. Almost everything was still covered with duct tape
and plastic. Boxes and books, and other items were piled onto each
other. He sat there looking at me with the same mixture of suspicion,
fear, and a hint of hostility. He kept fiddling with a broken pipe, as
I tried to engage him in conversation. Again, and again, he tried
putting the stem of the pipe back into its bow, but it just didn't
work. He kept cleaning and cleaning the pipe with a dirty pipe
cleaner, blowing and blowing into it; and then seeing it fall apart
again. It was very obvious he was extremely uncomfortable, and
although I became rather uncomfortable myself, I did learn something
Years ago he had visited an Episcopal Church in a nearby Midwestern
city, on the Sunday before New Year's Eve. It was his first visit to
this large affluent parish, and the priest invited him to join his
family on New Year's Day. And so began "K's" "membership" in a church
which would seem not for someone of his "place in life." Years later,
he moved to this little college town, to complete his education, but
never finished. The leaders of the little church also took him in, and
took care of him.They found him an old car, which is now filled to the
brim with junk and decayed food. They found him a place to live, and a
menial job at a local industry.
"K" became a reader of the lessons, an adult acolyte, who helped with
the Communion Service, for they bought him some very nice vestments.
He took his turn providing snacks for the weekly coffee hour. He even
became, what is called in the Episcopal Church, "the Junior Warden."
The Junior Warden is meant to be in charge of property and grounds.
However, because this little church had no property and grounds, it
meant "K's" main duty was to get the mail during the week, and
distribute it on Sundays. Each Sunday, on the coffee hour table, one
could see plastic shopping bags with different names written with
magic marker. "K" had sorted the mail and put each person's mail in
their labeled bag. Sometimes, though, he would misdirect the mail or
lose some. No one dared say anything critical, for "K" was very
As I got to know "K" better, I realized he was extremely intelligent. He
so enjoyed providing videos he had purchased for our Coffee Hour Sunday
School Hour. These were very intellectual lectures, on complicated
theological and historical subjects. When I said I was not interested
in a 12 week series of video lectures on the theology of St. Augustine,
I knew he was hurt. The matriarch of the congregation tried to
persuade me to change my mind, and looked at me very sternly when I
said that I was not supplying this congregation with the intent of
taking a course on Augustine.
On another rainy Sunday, when I had been taking services for several
months, there were only seven present, not counting myself or the
organist. By the time those who had other things to do had hurried
away, there were only three of us besides "K' left at the Coffee Hour.
It was his turn to prepare the snacks, but he had not had time to do so
before worship. I saw him move faster down the hall from the chapel
than I had ever seen him move.
After taking off my vestments and using the rest room, I walked into the
Coffee Hour Room and saw "K" rushing about, fixing the cheese, fresh
bread, cookies, coffee, orange juice, cheese dip, butter, and several
other treats. He apologized for being late in getting it ready, and I
felt sad he was working so hard, to fix so much, for so few. Later,
when we were alone, I asked him about his family. He has no siblings,
both parents have been long gone. He never sees his cousins, aunts, or
uncles. His father was well off financially, but his will was changed
by the father's brother. He got nothing, because the uncle's lawyer
had gotten the ruling that "K" was incompetent!
Now I understood, this sad and very small church was "K's" family, his
only family! God had sent him to them, and had brought them into his
life. As dysfunctional as this little band of people had become, a
miracle had been wrought in their midst, by their yielding to God's
will that they become like his Son, and always welcome a strange