Gestures matter. They matter on a personal basis and they matter on a community level as well. People long remember an unexpected kindness that affected their day, they hold on to this. It’s amazing to me that at the end of life how often persons return to these moments and treasure them, want to reach out to the person who offered the gesture. To use an iconic image they are the “Rosebud” moments.
But it’s true in churches too. I don’t know how many times I have served a church and the moment of Zen for them occurred when a nearby church of another denomination had something terrible happen to their building. In a gesture of kindness and care the United Church I was serving had immediately contacted that faith community and offered to share worship space. That offer was/is never forgotten. It becomes part of the narrative for how the churches get along, even if thereafter no other meeting is ever held.
Last night at our little faith community in the north end of the city one of our long-standing members was absent. She was not feeling her best and decided to stay home. I called her and she seemed to appreciate the fact we missed her and it would not feel the same without her. This woman does many things for our circle, she is the corporate memory of our church. She can recall everything that has happened over the many years the church has been present to and with the community. She also chooses a very, very old hymn to end the service, singing the verses from memory while the rest of us sing along as we can. On Remembrance Sunday this woman carries the whole service herself, singing solos, leading in the Remembrance rituals, reciting and composing original poetry. We would not be whom we are without her.
At the end of our service last night, about trying to live out a salty discipleship, I wondered who would offer the closing hymn. Before we got a most kind leader in the church suggested we call our unwell matriarch and ask her to suggest a hymn and perhaps lead us in the singing. I loved the idea and knew it would be well received. I used my cell phone and called. The answer came on the first ring and the enthusiasm for the task was obvious. There was a brief pause and then a hymn. She sang it too. And so there we were, 12 disciples singing out hearts out, joining our voices as one, led by the one who was not able to be with us. It was a beautiful moment, one that will stay with me for some time.
There are several things I love about the gesture. For one thing it lifted the spirits of one who was ill and down. For another the gesture reminded all of us how we too can lift others by widening our consideration to those around us. And finally, like prayer the gesture sent out a ripple that touched one, and then another, and then another… When one gesture is made others are bound to follow.
One hopes such gestures can be repeated on a community or regional or even national level. We saw that this week with faith communities reaching out to our Muslim sisters and brothers.