We toured the Episcopal parish where our family had been called with somber hearts, knowing the work before us was great. “Do you think we could paint the nursery?” “It would be fun to have a large flower arrangement here, for their first Sunday back to in person worship…” I had many ideas as we walked the halls, some of which were not in use now, as they had belonged to something bigger, no longer open to children. “There is no budget for anything extra, Sweetie,” replied my husband, as he contemplated what this much building might be used for that would pay its own expenses.
“Do you know anyone in the church who likes to bake bread?” The deacon I had met sometime before reads her text. She had become my resource for learning the ins and outs of this new parish. That Sunday we had twelve loaves of bread set out on the counter with a note: “Choose a Loaf, Choose a Donation; monies go to the refresh of our community spaces.”
We sold out of loaves, and The Bread Box was born. Every week after a masked and socially-distanced service still without the chalice and without the altar rail, parishioners are encouraged to head outside quickly for fellowship where the wind, we choose to believe, carries Covid to diminishment, and pandemic fatigue can be forgotten for a little while, because we are finding bills to fold up and stick in the floral paper-wrapped deposit box. We are choosing which bread we will take home to serve with lunch, while we sip on coffee and talk about how glad we are to be back together again. The money deposited grows and grows.
“The room is narrow and really dark. Any ideas on a good paint color?” The friend I call, who happens to be a home designer, says “could we paint a mural?” She says she’ll need help. I send a few texts. The Presbyterians show up, and the non-denoms, and the currently un-churched. The parishoners I am just getting to know, and the friends from ages ago…they rotate in and out through the doors, on and off the ladders, clothed in paint grubbies, hands dipping paint brushes where she tells them to. Octopus tentacles wrap around sea weed and coral, and the desert comes to life with orange and yellow and white poured in on top of each other. “Don’t stir!” we are instructed, and the streaks end up like sand dunes.
An iceberg is taped off with blue painters tape, and the best wall of all stands right across from the entrance to the room: space with its shooting stars and galaxy, painted with a color labeled “stunning.” We use the tip of a pencil eraser dipped in white paint to create a strand of tiny stars; the ring of Saturn a little tricky to get the dimensions and depth of correct…and the touch of so many people excited to see what God will do with this space. We will add new toys, and someone will donate a crib mattress; a new swing will maybe sit in that corner over there with the beautiful jungle tree…and the people of God will know that they gave to serve, they worked to serve, they sacrificed time and energy to serve, for the children who will use this new nursery space.
My mom sees a picture of the progress and she recognizes someone she doesn’t expect to be helping. I explain, “I just asked her if she would, and she said yes.”
What does it mean to be ecumenical? Today it means that people from all over town with the desire to help, met together at a church they needed directions to find, and they painted a room they’d never seen before, so that someone else’s children could play in it while weary parents kneel to pray, confess to heal, and receive to experience Christ’s presence sustaining their family through another week.
Whatever this seminary word may mean tomorrow, today ecumenical means that the Church universal served the church local, and everyone knew Love. Today it means that someone baked that bread that someone else dropped a check with one hundred dollars scrolled on the amount line to get, neither one expecting anything in return. Today as we change from our paint spattered clothes, it means that we loved one another no matter the differences, because the only thing that mattered was Christ, and his people have gone home with hearts light with joy.