It’s Sunday morning.
I have risen early to have enough time to travel from my home to the congregation where I have been serving as vicar for the last three months. I love the early morning drive to the church. It’s a peaceful time for me to enjoy the landscape as I travel through, taking in God’s creation while basking in the warmth of the sun. Often, I am one of the first people in our building. As the sun streams into the windows, I pause and take a moment to rest in the still and quiet of this blessed place. Soon, the peacefulness will turn into bustling footsteps echoing through the halls, and children’s laughter will bounce down the stairs from the nave.
As I take the time to vest in my alb, I can’t help but be reminded of the significance of this simple white garment. I am a visual representative of the Lord and today, I am His mouthpiece to these, His called people, in this place, during this time.
As I make my way to the sacristy, the notes of the piano in the choir room provide background music as parishioners greet one another in the hall just outside. I wait peacefully for my fellow brothers and sisters who are assisting in worship to stream in. We all gather in peace, and we begin with prayer over all who have gathered, over all who are taking time to rest and be renewed by God’s Word and that through these actions we may honor God and be transformed by the Holy Spirit, empowered to fight off the evil one and to share the Good News.
As our prelude begins, our acolyte in training looks nervously at me for guidance. She has only begun training to perform the important task of lighting the altar candles and takes her task very seriously. She has been trying her best to remember the order. I take the time to teach her why and how we do what we do and our connection to the priests in Leviticus.
“Altar candles first. Remember, God comes down to us in worship and when the service has ended, he goes back up.” I gently remind her that everything will be okay, and that I’ll be right there to help her. She proceeds out of the sacristy into the sanctuary. I follow closely behind and remain standing off to the side as she goes about her task with great seriousness and detail.
After she completes her task, she looks to me in a panic. Her eyes ask, “What do I do now?” She forgot what we do next. With a small gesture and a quiet whisper, I let her know that we will bow together as we face the altar, and she can take her seat. As she takes her seat, her whole face lights up into a smile of accomplishment. She is relieved she did not make a mistake and is thrilled she is included and is able to help. I smile back at her and silently mouth “good job”, then I turn and address the members of our community that have come to take refuge in the Lord and to be refreshed by His Word. Everything that I will do over the next hour of this beautiful Sunday morning is deeply rooted in the Scriptures. As a community we will obediently partake in Communion, the Sacrament that was commanded by Christ, Himself. What is about to take place is real. Together as a community, in this place, in this time, we will encounter the risen Christ.
The time in the liturgy has come to set the table. The young girl who is serving as the acolyte for today is also helping for the first time as a Communion assistant. Nervously she rises from her seat, unsure of what to do. I silently gesture for her to come to the Credence table. Patiently, I show her how to take the flagon of wine with two hands over to the altar. Together, we quietly work as a team to set the table as the Offertory is sung. Deliberately, I take the time to unfold the corporal and show her as she brings the chalice over, where it is to be placed. We continue in a respectful, unhurried silence as the guest pastor watches from a distance. We finish and I quietly tell her she can return to her seat. Again, a look of relief floods her face as she looks to where I am standing behind the altar.
Our guest pastor takes his place next to me and I begin the offertory prayer. As I finish, I step aside, and the pastor begins saying the words of the Great Thanksgiving. After he has finished the Words of Institution and the congregation has begun to sing the words of the Angus Dei, I motion for my young assistant to help with passing out the communion cups to the communion assistants. She patiently waits with those who are helping distribute the body and blood to receive her blessing for she has not yet been baptized. As the body and blood are received by the congregation, she patiently waits, refilling the pouring chalices as needed. When all have received, she helps me to return everything in a respectful manner to the Creedence table and again takes up her seat.
She watches intently as I lead the post Communion blessing, canticle, prayer and benediction. During the next to last verse of the recessional hymn, I come from behind the altar with the guest pastor and bow before the altar. As I pass her, I signal for her to come up and put out the candles. She does so, in perfect order, and proceeds to the sacristy by herself.
As I am outside of the nave greeting the parishioners, she comes to me with her grandmother and hugs me thanking me for allowing her to help — to be included.
“This is what it means to be part of the family of Christ,” I tell her. “Let me know when you are ready to be baptized and become an official member of the family.”
She replies “Absolutely, but I have a few more questions.”
“Of course. Give me a few minutes to greet a few more people and I’ll be happy to answer them.”
This is an example of what discipleship looks like in real life. It is walking alongside those who are discerning their call to the family of God. It is modeling who we are called to be and answering the questions of why we have this way of life — and the blessings that come from it.
Megan Ann Shaffer, NALS seminarian studying through Luther House of Studies affiliated with Sioux Falls Seminary. Ms. Shaffer is completing her internship/vicarage year at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Montoursville, PA