Sometimes at my church in late October we sing the hymn, For All the Saints. At that service we remember the many dedicated and committed people who have died over the course of the year. For me, this service is always a time to think about long time members, most of them elders and many the age of my parents, who have accomplished much and made the world and community — not just our church — a better place.
This celebration of All Saints’ Day makes me think about getting older, how much life I have left to live (quite a few years, I hope), and whether, when the time comes and my life ends, I will look back and feel like I have lived my life with service to others.
My church is celebrating its centennial year, and right now it’s mid-May, not October. I just enjoyed another opportunity to listen and ponder the well-lived lives of elders (age-wise, not in the church governing sense), some departed, but a good many still alive and active. So many of these people, contributing time and talent, ensured during the first 75 years, that the church would endure for generations, making is possible for the rest of us to celebrate this 100th year. For three hours people shared stories and special memories about the history and lives lived in ways that affect change without rubbing their religion in the face of others. Though it was a long afternoon, hardly anyone left before the event ended.
Over the 100 years of church life, members built strong church foundations on the buildings and in the community, starting the first public library, opening the first preschool, integrating the summer Bible school, and actively supporting desegregation of the schools, and creating a food bank, and opening a homeless shelter. Members also began a AIDS ministry, started one of the first community hospices, and welcome gay and lesbian families into the church community. (In case anyone is wondering, love between people is what makes a family.)
My family is fortunate to be a part of this religious community. Now I know that many of these people contributed to the church throughout their lives, not just as older members. More importantly to me, however, as I move inexorably toward my retirement years, I merely have to look around in any direction in this amazing church community to watch people who have lived their later years with grace, gratitude, concern for others, and a devotion to lifelong learning.
Oh, and they are bonafide Sermon on the Mount Christians, just like my own parents.