The morning of October 11, 2009, all of St. Luke’s Anglican Church, La Crescenta were to worship in our original building for the last time before it was confiscated and handed over to the L.A. Diocese of the Episcopalian Church. It was sure to be an emotional time for all of us ”“ maybe even gut-wrenching.
Personally, I had many reasons to be angry and sad over losing the building. This was the place where I had met my wife, Kathy. This was the sanctuary where we were wed. This was where my Godson and his little sister had been baptized. This was where I had experienced the Spirit in worship for the first time after a long dry spell elsewhere. And I am only a member of five years ”“ how much more a loss for those to whom the beautiful stone and wood sanctuary and grounds had been a home for up to five generations!
Yet, that Sunday, as we began to sing familiar songs and speak the liturgical words, I did not feel anger or sadness. I did not witness people wailing and clinging to the walls. Instead, I found myself joining in with loud, strong voices of praise to our faithful God. There was strong emotion all right, but it wasn’t lamentation or mourning ”“ amazingly, as we left the building, the lingering emotion was joy.
Maybe this feeling was on account of the fact that we’d spent so many months letting go already (including the many notes of remembrance that members had posted around the grounds and were now collected in a Book of Testimony). Maybe it was a sense of release from the legal suspense. Maybe it was the word shared by Fr. Rob from Hebrews, Chapter 10 that rang so true and truly prophetic (read the entire chapter and be amazed). It was probably all those things. Most of all, though, the joy was from the living Spirit of Christ Our Savior, present with us in such a way that, afterwards, a member of the press was heard to say that he’d never heard worship quite like what he’d witnessed that morning. Even my 3-month-old boy, Jake, had been compelled to join in, shouting out during each chorus of “Lion of Judah.”
As we all gathered afterwards to check out our new worship space — and again as we had our first service there this past Sunday ”“ I was struck by the full reality of what had before been a concept: the Church, including our little St. Luke’s, is not a building. We had lost the beautiful building, yes. Yet, here was my wife. Here were the smiling faces of the ladies who had coordinated our wedding. Here was our baby boy, to be baptized next month. Here was my Best Man and his lovely wife; my Godson; my pastor; my buddy who had helped me to finish my last short film; so many friends who had brought Kathy and I meals and other support when we brought our baby home. Here was my spiritual family. Here was the Body of Christ.
I’d mentally assented to the concept before, but now I have experienced the reality anew: the Church is God living in and amongst all those peculiar and particular people who love him and are called according to his purposes. So, whether we win or lose legal battles over property, no judge and no religious authority can ever confiscate the Church.
Or our Joy.
Thanks be to God, hallelujah, hallelujah,
Keith Ray Putman