Several years ago, while traveling to Cleveland to visit relatives, my husband and I visited the church where my parents were married and I was baptized, St. Peter’s in Lakewood, Ohio. At some point during the service (I can’t really remember when) the rector called together any members of the congregation celebrating birthdays or wedding anniversaries that coming week. A few people came forward and stood in a tight circle as the rector then said a blessing over them as they entered into a new year of life or of marriage. This was the first time I had ever experienced this lovely tradition.
Sometime later, I shared how deeply moved I was by that experience with my rector. I asked if this is something we could try, and the practice was introduced during our main service a few weeks later. Things started off slowly at first. People seemed embarrassed by being asked to stand in front of the church to be prayed for, but we continued on in spite of some grumbling. Eventually people at least accepted that this was “something we do,” and didn’t grumble quite as much as they reluctantly made their way to the front of the church.
A few years and rectors later, marking the birthdays and anniversaries of our members with prayer is a tradition at St. James. On the occasion when the rector forgets to ask, someone (usually my husband, John) will blurt out, “Birthdays and anniversaries?” It’s poignant to watch our older couples come forward year after year to celebrate 40, 50, and even some 60-year anniversaries. It’s funny to watch small children gleefully run to the front because it’s their birthday, but then shyly stand there, burying their face into Mom or Dad’s legs while the priest prays over them. But they all come forward, because it’s what we do. We pray for them as they enter into a new year of life, or of marriage, and we applaud at the end of the prayer to convey our good wishes on them.
Grumbling and embarrassment have stopped, for the most part. And most of our children have never known church when this wasn’t done. It’s our lovely tradition. And it only came to be because someone shared a story.
How many churches began knitting ministries because they read a story about one? Or community dinners, or food pantries, or diaper ministries? We’re focusing this issue on telling stories, because it is our stories that truly connect us. The stories each of us has to share could be the beginning of a lovely tradition for another faith community.
Over the last five years as editor of Connections, I have had the great honor and privilege of curating hundreds of your stories on these pages and through e-Connections. They have made me think, made me laugh, and some even made me cry. This latest batch is no exception.
Connect the Dots, a new initiative to bring people together to share their stories will be introduced at convention. (Read more) In the coming months, we will be rolling out an updated diocesan website, with increased opportunities to share even more stories. And it’s more important than ever to share our stories, because the power to connect lies within them.
Connections editor Julie Murray serves as Associate Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with her at email@example.com.