We stopped into an Episcopal church to view its stained glass windows while on vacation this weekend. The building was over 150 years old with creaky ornate pews and a gold accented organ pipes to the left of the sanctuary. After taking pictures of windows of Mary and Joseph and the altar and organ, Vinny sat in a pew towards the front of the church and I sat in the pew behind him. He found an African-American hymnal in the book holder in the pew. He perused the index of songs looking for familiar hymns and chose “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling,” which he sang with a voice that caressed the words. After he showed me the page he was viewing, I pulled out my own hymnal and sang along. Without a discussion about what we were doing, we began to alternately pick hymns to sing, including “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “You are Near,” spanning the decades of spiritual music.
After ten minutes I heard the door in the back of the church open. Mixed with our singing was the sound of people moving around, then the squeak of the pew as they sat. We sang for more than a half-hour, sometimes sweetly, then triumphantly. Although I was tempted to turn and see who was listening to us, wondered if we were bothering them, concerned that we were interlopers into this community, I focused on the music and the words in these familiar songs.
While we were looking for another song to sing, the two people from back of the church moved forward and sat in the pew across the aisle from us. It was an older couple and the man was crying. “I just want you to know that you have brought me tremendous peace,” he said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “My aunt died this week and her funeral is taking place now in Seattle. Since I couldn’t be there, I wanted to light a candle for her during the time of the funeral. We were sitting back there and I was so comforted to hear your singing. I wanted to thank you.”
Vinny shared the story of his mother’s recent death with the man and they cried together in their grief. What started as a spontaneous visit to view stained glass windows became a way to express God’s love to another and receive His love back – a wonderful gift.