I am holding something very small – can you see what it is? A penny, the smallest coin we have; it all started with a penny. Three and a half years ago, at our parish Annual Meeting when we were discussing the need to repave our parking lot, one of our parishioners suggested a “Pennies for Parking” jar. We all knew that collecting loose change in that way would take a monumentally long time to save enough money to do the job – but somehow people took it seriously. Another parishioner found a large beautiful vase at her house and brought it to Church and we began collecting pocket change: Pennies for Parking – and two of the most consistent contributors to that jar were Delano and Leroy May. I’m not sure how much we actually collected – maybe three hundred dollars or so; that’s a lot of pennies, but not enough for a whole parking lot.
And then a terrible thing happened; Delano’s health declined precipitously and she died in October of that year; many of you were here for her funeral, and many more have missed her friendship, her leadership on the altar guild, at the rummage sale, as an office volunteer, on the search committee, on the Vestry – where she served as clerk, then member, then Warden - and most of all, her quiet, steady and determined faithfulness and care for others.
At the next Annual Meeting, Leroy issued All Saints’ a challenge (and who doesn’t love a challenge?): if we could raise $20,000 in two months for the parking lot, he would match it. Volunteers went into action – letters went out to parishioners, we solicited our neighbors, we held our first Fish & Chips dinner and had a car wash; our Boy Scout troop, our Cub Scout pack and the Girl Scout Leaders of Long Hill Township each contributed a thousand dollars, and many supportive letters and phone calls came in. By the end of the eight weeks, we had more than made our match and were ecstatic.
And as we worked and prayed that we might be able gather the resources to make our grounds safe and welcoming to all, a funny thing happened: we began to be aware, in a whole new way, of our place in this neighborhood. We began to see that a very large number of people are connected to All Saints’ in ways that have nothing to do with coming to worship, and yet there would be a hole in their lives if we weren’t here: certainly the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts we sponsor, and all the Girl Scouts that meet here; and all of the seven weekly AA meetings that make All Saints’ their home, but also other community groups that hold meetings, and the people who vote here, and the folks who walk their dogs across the property, the people who slip quietly into the Memorial Garden for prayer and meditation, the kids who play on the play ground and learn to ride bikes on the parking lot; the teenagers who learn to drive in the parking lot; the people who come to Pilates class; the neighbors who rely on us for overflow parking for their parties; and the repairmen and deliverymen who pull into the lot at noon to eat their lunch at the dashboard deli. All of these, and more, are our neighbors – the people at our gate, like Lazarus in the Gospel – and it became very clear that God was calling us to increase our hospitality to them, and to the wider community, by making our resources available to them in the best way we could.
And then came the next step – Leroy’s offer of a lift or elevator that would make the Parish House fully handicapped-accessible on all levels, since he had recently been wheelchair-bound himself, and it would be done in memory of Delano. What a journey of faith this has been – almost like a scavenger hunt where you follow a clue to a destination, only to find that there is another clue that leads you farther on, and on, and on – many clues. But so often that is what being a follower of Jesus is all about – walking by faith, and not by sight, trusting that God’s purposes will be made clear if and when we need them to be, and that doors will open and resources materialize when we least expect them. Not that we didn’t work hard; the Vestry, Finance Committee, and Parish House Entryway Committee had many meetings, e-mails and phone calls with the architect, the engineers, the attorney, the general contractor and his subs, the paving contractor, township officials, and conversations with neighbors and passers-by about what we were doing.
And in the middle of all this your Rector went on sabbatical and Hurricane Irene hit, damaging the lower level of the Parish House – that was a detour we did not expect; but thanks to the outstanding leadership of our Wardens Tom Day and Jackie Sullivan, and to the calm and steady presence of our Curate Beth Sciaino, and thanks to the generosity of the Church Insurance company, it was a detour for the better, with a new kitchen and refurbished lower level, French drains and sump pumps.
Finally the plans for the new entryway and the town approvals and permits came together … and then we had Superstorm Sandy, and I was sure our project would be delayed because someone’s house or business would need an emergency repair. I think we were all surprised and elated when work began in mid-November – right after we had gotten power back after a two-week hiatus.
Of course, like any construction project, it has taken more time and more money than I could ever have imagined – and I would be very remiss if I didn’t mention that some of the work in the Parish Hall itself, and part of the parking lot, was funded from a generous bequest from the estate of John Mason – a long-time parishioner.
And so here we are – all the construction finished, the paving finished, that which shimmered like a distant hope on the horizon finally here; what a wonderful day, what a wonderful way to celebrate. Like Jacob in the first reading I can almost see the angels ascending and descending on the ladder – or is that a wheelchair lift?
But – and this is really important – our ministry of Community Hospitality doesn’t stop here, with safe, accessible, and attractive buildings; we can’t say we’ve done our bit, thank you very much, we can all go home now. The ministry of hospitality to our surrounding community is something that will engage us for the long haul, finding ways to serve others, being a blessing to our neighbors, contributing to the common good where and how God leads us. We do that as a congregation, as a parish, certainly; but we also do it individually each day in our families, our work, our volunteer activities – living lives fueled by faith in God, and nourished by worship, Scripture, sacrament, and the life we share with each other. Hospitality means that we welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us – sometimes with open arms; other times by sitting quietly, patiently, alongside another; and at other times standing up and standing with people who are telling the truth when no one else wants to hear it, or doing what is right, even when it is really hard. Because that’s part of being a Christian, it’s part of being a member of All Saints’, God working in us and through us to be a blessing to others in whatever way they need.
And in this ministry of Community Hospitality, in this following of Jesus, we will know ourselves to be found by God – over and over and over again. And will know, just as our parish forbears did when they stood on this spot and on this day in 1906 and consecrated this building for worship, that the hospitality that God extends to us is so generous and so bountiful, that it cannot help but overflow the banks of our hearts into the lives of those around us – a blessing and a treasure.
And so, for all that has been, for all that is, and for all that is yet to be we say: thanks be to God.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Dedication of the Parish House Entrance
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 29, 2013