My husband and I visited our youngest son and his family in Boulder, Colorado, this weekend and attended his First Presbyterian Church.
My father passed on to the next world many years ago. He was a Presbyterian pastor, and I have many happy childhood memories of growing up in the church in Lafayette, California. Choir. Youth group. Camping trips. I remember the sanctuary, built in the fifties, the long, plain, raftered room, the first sanctuary. Founded by my father, the church originally met in the local Park Theater, my father preaching in front of the big screen, and the Sunday School met in the Town Hall, creating classes with room dividers. It was an important day when this first sanctuary building was finished and dedicated, although a much grander one would be built later, one that could be seen for miles from the hillside.
We sat, as I recall, on folding chairs, and faced a raised stage where my father sat to the side in his long black academic robe, waiting to preach. When the time came, he moved to a lectern and wove a Gospel message of love through three good stories. “Three good stories,” he would say, “is the secret to a good sermon. Three points. Three stories.” He kept jokes and stories on index cards in a small file box at home. We sang Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty…
He was well loved, my father. And he loved well. I suppose it was easy for me to believe in a loving God the Father, having had such a loving father-on-earth.
So in Boulder on Sunday we sat with our son and his lovely wife and his own son, a precocious six-year-old, in the second pew of Boulder Presbyterian. The immense sanctuary fanned up and around like a theater, with large video screens high on either side of the raised stage. The church was packed, people taking seats in shiny oak pews, their feet resting on soft carpeting, some folks settling into an upper balcony ringing the room. A choir angled in rows to the right of the stage. High ceilings, a large cross on the back wall rising over greenery, a holy table with an open Bible, a cross, a chalice, a stemmed plate. A baptismal font to the right, a lectern to the left. The simplicity was familiar, and I smiled when I saw the preacher sitting, waiting, in his chair behind the pulpit.
We began with Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty, and my tears were near. I prayed my thanksgivings for this moment when my past had, in some remarkable and blessed way, become my son’s present, and I was able to share it with him and his son as well. I watched as the children sat on the steps of the chancel stage, gathered around the preacher for a lesson, my grandson sitting in the group, proud.
The children returned to their places in the pews, and the pastor preached to the adults. He didn’t wear a black robe, but a neat jacket and tie. He didn’t preach from the pulpit, but commanded center stage. He told a few stories and left us with several memorable points. The 23rd Psalm was all about redeeming the dark places in our lives. We are not spared suffering, he said, but our trials are redeemed by Christ, and he is with us as we work through them. Classic, orthodox Christianity, I thought, proclaiming the presence of God here and now, God’s powerful presence working through and in each of us.
We sang another hymn, following the words on the overhead monitors high above, and filed out, up the soft carpets, following the hundreds of worshipers to the large foyer.
Boulder First Pres wasn’t St. Thomas’ or St. Peter’s where the great Eucharistic liturgy is offered each Sunday in all of its dramatic glory, where the bread and the wine become Christ’s Body and Blood, nourishing us. But I was grateful for the congregation’s clear belief in an active, loving God, one who lived with us, in us. And I was grateful to be a mother, a grandmother, sharing this moment in time.