I Sing a Song of the Saints of God

November 10, 2014
Chris Sikkema, Mission Associate, Justice and Advocacy Ministries

Even with a couple months left, I feel comfortable proclaiming that, for me, this has been a year of transitions. I moved to an apartment in New York City from my family’s home in the woods outside Rochester, Minnesota. I traded a roomy four-door for a packed subway train. I left Sunday pizza dinners with my cousins and grandparents for Sunday pizza dinners with the television. I left friends and family, and struck out into the world, ready to do the work I believe God has given me.

For all its wonderful opportunities, it has been a trying experience, fraught with inconveniences, inconsistencies, and unforeseen circumstances. As with any major life transition, I have found myself missing the things that used to be commonplace—the skyline of my hometown, the smell of my parish church, the familiar faces one sees around town, and stars. I have ached for the kind of normality and consistency that the Midwest specialized in, and that New York eschews with all its being.

While it has by no means been an easy move into this new life, I have been strengthened and sustained, and I find joy daily. Deciding on a new bagel place and church have been helpful, as has the support of my home parish. Still, chief among my sources of strength is the nature of my work and the faithful Episcopalians whose witness and work energize and amaze me. These are the saints, with whom we are knit together.

In my work with Jubilee Ministries, I have the opportunity to talk with deacons, priests, bishops, and laypeople, who are utterly and thoroughly committed to furthering the mission of the Church. There is never a day when I am unsurprised; each day, I hear and see more of the Spirit working through the people. On a daily basis, I meet with coworkers who have dedicated their lives and livelihoods to advocating for Jesus’ people. I have spoken with a priest in Colorado who desires nothing more than to present God’s love to the homeless, through gifts of food, art classes, and calm, non-judgmental presence. I have corresponded with Episcopalians in Arizona who saw a vandalized church building as an invitation to engage their community through tutoring and relationship-building. I have watched Magdalene ministries replicate across the country, dedicated to hearing the stories of the incarcerated and offering them a holy way forward. I have even witnessed a church choir singing about the importance of clean underwear—the focus of their church clothing drive!

These examples, I think, are impressive in their own right—but there is more: whenever I have a conversation with Episcopalians in the field, I make a point to ask why they do their work. Without fail, each person has explained in some way that God had given them talents and passions; these talents passions are rightfully used to serve others— and that gratitude and a sense of mission propelled them to their ministries.

It is fitting that this past weekend, we celebrated All Saints’ Day, commemorating those holy women and holy men whose work, through God, has inspired, changed, and delivered us. Their work lives on in our buildings, our theologies, our worship, and our memories. They, along with the visible saints around us, are, as the Catechism puts it, “the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” They are, among others, the people I hear from every week.

These saints, through their service, give me the courage and patience to persevere in my own work; hearing about and seeing new after-school programs, family shelters, health clinics, prison ministries and literacy classes founded on the premise that God’s gifts are for sharing—this informs and sustains me.  These saints help me to remember that I only need to call one of our ministries and listen, and I will almost inevitably come away knowing that through them, God continues to make all things new.

So this week, I celebrate all the saints of God—those we see, and those we see no longer; as the song goes, I have met them in school, and in lanes, and at sea, in church, and in trains, and in shops, and at tea—and I mean to be one too.

Tagged in: Public Policy