We haven't been in the sanctuary; but today we got to sit in the loft and see one of the bell choir's record a video.
It was the first time I'd been inside the sanctuary in over a year. The last time was March 13, 2020, the day of Lily's 14th birthday and the day of my friend Laura's father's funeral. I remember realizing that we probably would not be there on Sunday--and that while a funeral is anything but completely normal or average, this funeral would be one of the last normal church experiences for a while.
You guys--I had a total emotional breakdown in that sanctuary! I had forgotten what that place means to me. It was like coming home. I don't have a childhood home to go to anymore (my mother lives with us!) nor do I have any living grandparents. I love the home we've made with our family; but we are always here. There is really no where "to go" home to, except for my church.
That sanctuary has been the back drop for so many stories in my life. My parents were married at my church-in 1976. They married in the small chapel just adjacent to the big sanctuary. Mike and I joined First Presbyterian Church of Haddonfield after we married. We went on and off. Then Lily was born--29 weeks early. We were young, scared and the only thing I could think to do was to call the church.
That's when we really found a home--Lily battled her way through prematurity. I remember her first Christmas Eve in that sanctuary---she was dressed in my first Christmas dress, smocked and sewn by my grandmother. We sat in the way back and for the first time, I remember thinking: We are a family.
Then Lily was baptized. Then she was diagnosed with cancer and the church was the first call again. I've sat in that sanctuary, raising my hand during "Prayers of the People" to thank our church for praying for Lily. I've asked for prayers for healing for her, prayers for strength on the eve of scans and prayers of thanksgiving as the years passed, distancing ourselves from her diagnosis in 2007. Chloe was baptized in the basement (in the summer the church moves to Fellowship Hall); but received her Bible and the celebration of Communion in that sanctuary. Nicholas was baptized there--I remember his first time at church--just about a week old for the annual Candlelight Christmas service. Our girls were singing and we huddled up in the balcony, avoiding people to keep our little guy safe from germs. Chloe and Nicholas celebrated their pre-school graduations in there and their preschool Thanksgiving plays.
I've lost count of the number of times I've watched my children sing and ring on the steps at the front of the church. How many times a sermon or a Bible verse spoke to me--moving me to silent tears in a room where I felt protected and loved and held tight by my brothers and sisters. I was ordained as an Elder on those steps. I'll never forget how it felt to feel the room praying for me.
I've sat with church friends in those pews--laughing when we should be somber, holding hands when we felt broken and joyously watching our kids perform. I've negotiated with my children for their silence--serving them secret snacks in our pew.
I said goodbye to my brother in that space--celebrating his life here and his life everlasting with our family and friends--and with his. When my mother moved to New Jersey, David began coming to our church on Sunday's. He conducted choirs there and found the kind of acceptance in a faith community that he never had before.
That sanctuary is home. I had no idea how much I missed it. We watch church every Sunday in our pajamas in our living room. But, it is not the same. I miss that place that is full of such spirit--and so much humanity--the joy, the pain, the sorrow, the healing, the love--so much love. It is a place filled with memories of the past and joys of the future--Confirmation for all three of my kids, sermons that move us all, laughs that move us just as much and fellowship that only comes from being home, together.