Memory & Community

Memory can be a strange and powerful thing. We attended a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at the parish closest to our home. It is an urban parish with a diverse membership in terms of age, race, gender and affectional preference. It is a parish that reaches out to the surrounding community in many ways. They have several other congregations worshiping in the building to help them afford the facility. They have community groups using the facility, provide tutors to the local school, and an end of the month Sunday supper for those who need food.

Sitting there I was transported, in that time machine called memory, back but not to one specific time but to two different times. The first memory was of 40 years ago when I was in seminary, doing my field education in this same congregation.  I had attended dinners in this same space then with different people. The economics of the parish was better then – the attendance was greater then.

In 2010 the caring of these people for one another, and for the unaccompanied children from the neighborhood, was palpable. Like their end of the month Sunday Supper for the community the supper was about care and support and nurture.  There were no tickets for this supper, no suggested donation.  You lined up and got your food. And if the spirit moved you and your family economics were sufficient, you could leave a donation toward the cost of the dinner.

After dinner there was an impromptu talent show. The priest’s daughter led off with knock-knock jokes; followed by a 4 year old singing Old McDonald Had a Farm. She started out barely audible above the notes of the keyboard plunking out the melody for her. She sang but without the animal sounds in the chorus – just verse after verse. She started off softly looking scared, and then gained courage from the smiles and the looks of approval surrounding her.

Again the time machine whirred and I went back another 20 years at St. Clement’s Church in Buffalo.  Remembering church suppers, pageants, talent shows where I was the frightened child singing or pantomiming a song surrounded by a community of people smiling and laughing, and encouraging me. In memory’s eye I saw different families less diverse than those surrounding me in 2010. I see a church not yet past the politics of race, and gender issues addresses in the 60’s and 70’s and yet a faith community that was supportive of youth, and working families. One mark of its effectiveness so long ago is that from this small struggling urban parish that lived hand-to-mouth, from among those young people at least six priests of the church emerged. Not that ordination is the best sign of spiritual community, but it is one sign that lives were affected.

Sixty years later I left this pancake supper encouraged by this faith community that allowed me to be transported to other times. Yet, the same time machine makes me wonder whether I/we have done enough to support and encourage, to reach out and care, so that in another sixty years these young stars of the talent show might have a similar remembering at some parish gathering, in some other community. Christian community is built on making and sharing memory that leads us and guides us into the future.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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