Let the Church Wrap Its Arms Around You

I have a friend whose favorite saying is "let the Church wrap its arms around you." She has plenty of opportunity in her life to utter the phrase in her position at our church - she is the head of our 'social concerns' ministry. You know the one - it's the ministry you hope you never have to be on the receiving end of. Day in and day out Michelle listens, counsels, consoles and helps people who have found themselves in one dire straight or another. 

Michelle has a knack for putting people at ease, a quick smile and a heart that radiates warmth and vitality - and it is infectious. All of a sudden, people, our friends and neighbors, the people we worship with, find themselves in need. It's then that you will hear it - "let the Church wrap its arms around you." Is there any better image for God than one of Him embracing someone in need? 

This week has been an opportunity for our parish to be able to do a little bit of the 'wrapping' around Michelle and her family. For the past 24 years Michelle, Chris and her family - and by extension and God's grace, our entire community have had the opportunity to be in the presence of Becca. Becca put the 'special' in special needs. She was a fixture at our church - and a magnet. As soon as a service would end, Becca would have a group of people surround her. I never heard her say a word but she would always make her desires known. Often if I was able to snag Michelle or Chris for a quick chat, Becca would bang her walker into the midst of us - she wanted and craved attention. 

I can't help being reminded of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, when Bob Cratchit comes back from church as he speaks to his wife. "He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see." So often when I was in Becca's presence I was reminded of the true grace of God.

Our story with Becca and her family started almost 20 years when we were in the hospital with our one-week old son. He was getting a spinal tap because he had a fever he couldn't shake and we (parents and doctors) were worried about meningitis - such a scary word when you are a parent. On the ward was a young girl down the hall. During those couple of days Laurie, my wife, much more social than me, would walk down and play with her. A quick bond was formed and we met, not only new friends, but we were introduced to a new church community. In so many ways, our roots started to grow because of that chance encounter.

This week Becca passed away with her family surrounding her and her church community wrapping their arms around them. We are in ways profoundly sad but know that her joy, as Thomas Aquinas said, is fully realized when we are able to walk in the presence of the risen Christ.