Pew-hoppers and Pass-overs

Today I did the most shocking, discordant, and rebellious act of Episcopal church membership.
I changed pews.
Now, mind you, I merely migrated north 4 rows– but this changed my experience of the service profoundly.
First, I was able to see my children, who had argued all the way to church, but stood cherubic in those blue Canterbury choir robes that match the eyes their daddy gave them. And the singing. Pure and sweet. I know you all think they act like that all the time. They don’t. For just those few minutes, I got to enjoy them the way you do. And it was wonderful. Pure delight.

But even better I had the pleasure to watch each of you on your path to the rail.
Much has been written on the subject of the holy decent to our knees with our hands out, as we squeeze shoulder to shoulder with family and stranger alike. Of note is this wonderful homily by Dr. Brene Brown delivered at the National Cathedral.

I watched the steps you took on your journey to the holy start of your week.

I saw you, stoic and staid, dressed in your pressed slacks and perfect tie.
I saw you, hunched and nearly pulling yourself up the hand rial of the three steps to the choir level, a walk that takes so much out of you, but puts so much in.
I saw you drop and retrieve the handkerchief you clung to like a life raft.
I saw you look at the ceiling, a quick meditation, as your feet continued forward on autopilot.
I saw you reach out to an acquaintance in the parallel line with a gentle shoulder rub.
I saw you look down to the ring on your hand as you felt the cool metal of the solid brass handrail under your palm.
I saw you hug the friend in the front row.
I saw you make space for the visitor to merge into line.
I saw you put your hand on the small of your wife’s back.
You, my church family, were beautiful.

As I observed, a young boy about five years old descended the stairs near the pulpit in tears.
His mother mouthed something, and I realized he had experienced what my children once called a “passover,” when through some small misunderstanding, a child is blessed or passed over for the wafer or wine.

As a chalice bearer, I know the confusion that can occur at the rail as children or newcomers or visitors look for our guidance and the challenge we experience of reading the minds of each recipient (Will she assist with the cup?  Will he intinct?).

It’s an innocent misunderstanding, but his earnest reaction struck me.

His desire for communion, his passion, his need, his disappointment were everything we each take with us to the rail.

This precious boy will be fine. My own children have recovered from “passovers.” Children are quite resilient as you know–and likely a well-timed Parish Hall cookie helped.

Please don’t think my voyueristic observations untoward. I’m usually so distracted by my pew mates that I’m lucky to notice when it’s our turn to stand and approach. But today I felt more a part of the collective “us” than I have in a long time.

The Eucharistic experience is simultaneously singular and collective. May we see one another as we approach the rail together, and may we do so with the expectancy that Christ will provide all that we need.

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Laura Boyles

Laura Soule Boyles is a lifelong member of Christ Church, Pensacola westside bayou girl, wife, mother, teacher, traveler, reader, and writer. She loves flowers and school supplies, coffee and wine, and free ranges chickens and children in her spare time.

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