April 23 was the feast day of St. George the Martyr. Many people in many places were celebrating their patron St. George. My heart and my mind was with the people In the small community of Whiteway, Newfoundland. At about this time of year, 42 years ago, I was baptised in a small church nestled on the shores of Trinity Bay. On the feast day of St. George this year, that little church celebrated its centennial. I could not be with my family and friends as they celebrated this very joyous occasion but my thoughts and prayers were certainly with them. As I thought about greetings that I would send, many memories began to flood my mind. As my friends and family were gathered in worship, I found that recalling that church community and what it has meant on my faith journey was time well spent.
My baptism, my confirmation, my first communion, my first day as an altar server, my first time reading in church, my first sermon, and my first celebration of the Eucharist as a priest, were all celebrated at the tiny church of St. George the Martyr. This community of faith is one of a cluster of four congregations that comprise the Parish of Heart’s Delight. So much of what informs my day-to-day journey of faith has been instructed by the time that I spent in that parish and most especially in our small but mighty congregation. It is a family church. Growing up I remember that attendance on a weekly basis was often not more than 10 or 12 people, with many of them being my very own family. Each of those who attended was a very special person who brought a unique character and flavour to the community of faith gathered in that place.
I reflected to my church community this evening, that at my home church there was very little happening for me as a child; No Sunday School, no music program, no choir. Heavens there is no running water in that church. – there is not even a bathroom. There was nothing there for me as a child …. yet, at the same time, there was everything I needed there as a child! While St. George the Martyr was a small church and lacked resources, it was a church mighty in character and strong in community and in faith. As an adolescent and young teen there were times life seemed very tumultuous and stormy for me. But when I was at St. George the Martyr I was always secure and always safe. It was, and it remains, a place of refuge for me. While good programming, loads of resources, and great facilities, are great to have as a church, nothing can replace good mentorship and strong witness in a community of faith. While I was feeling like an outsider, the Rev’d Morley Boutcher and the people of St. George’s made me an insider.
When I was a teenager our priest was kinder than kind. Morley Boutcher asked me to be an Altar Server. We had never seen that at our church. In those days the altar was against the wall and the priest would celebrate with his back to the people. I shall never forget being next to the Altar and seeing the Host and the Chalice elevated – for what really felt like the first time. “This is my body which is broken for you… this is my blood which is shed for you…whenever you do this, you do it in memory of me.” These were freeing words. The people in my little community church encouraged me, loved me, supported me to actually feel that I am a part of the Body of Christ, that I could be redeemed by the Blood of the Cross. I have much to be grateful for when I recall my home church.
In baptism we promise to seek and serve Christ in one another and to love our neighbour as ourselves. It was at the Church of St. George the Martyr that I saw this for the first time. One of the most critical questions asked in a baptismal liturgy is when the celebrant turns to the community and asks; “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” I can say without question, that the people of my little home church took this commitment very seriously. I would not be a priest in the church today if it were not for the love, support, and nurture of the people who have borne witness to the Gospel at St. George the Martyr. But more importantly, I would not hold the faith that I hold today and would not be as secure in that faith as I am today, if it were not for the beautiful and eclectic band of characters that attended that little church each week.
Each pilgrim who attended St. George the Martyr bore witness to their faith in their own very unique and special way. Each of us has an important role to play in mentoring, in modelling, and bearing witness to what it means to be a part of a Christian community. Living our baptismal covenant on a day-to-day basis sometimes is really rooted in how we show others what it would look like to be a welcoming, forgiving, loving, part of a community of faith. Each of us on our faith journey can name people who have given us a very good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Each of us on our sojourn can name people among the community of saints who have had a big influence in our lives. The beauty of living the baptismal covenant is that we have the opportunity to do for others what was done for us. As surely as Clifford or Mildred, or Orpha or Hezekiah or my Dad or Mom or any of the community of faith at the church of St. George the Martyr witnessed to me what it looks like to be a part of a community of faith, I now I am being called to show others what it looks like to be a part of a community of faith – Not because of the sacrament of ordination, but because of the sacrament of baptism! The people in that small community, and in that family church were consistent in who they were on Sunday morning as well as who they were on Monday morning. There are those who follow us on our journey, who are looking to us to show, not just when we are at church on Sunday but in our day-to-day lives, what it looks like to bear witness to the love of Jesus. We can seek strength to do just that by looking back to see those who mentored and guided us.
So this week I give thanks to God for the gift of the family church community that I grew up in. The priests, the people, and the spirit of the church of St. George the Martyr took seriously its commitment to support me in my life in Christ. They have taken that commitment seriously for 100 years now. And they bear witness to the fact that the church can be a powerful and life-giving force without all of resources and program that many of our churches enjoy. They bear witness to the fact that living the baptismal covenant requires a willingness to love, to heal, to pray, to accept, to welcome, to embrace, to forgive, and to support one another.
I pray that when a disillusioned and frightened adolescent arrives in our communities, they will find people as committed to their baptismal covenant as I did at the Church of St. George the Martyr all those years ago.