By Deborah Maue
I first walked into St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church on a Sunday morning almost 22 years ago. Our family had recently moved to Oak Park from Lakeview, and the former assistant rector of our church in the city had recently been called as rector of St. Christopher’s. So upon hearing that we were moving to Oak Park, we heard a chorus of “You HAVE to go to St. Christopher’s!”
My first memory of St. Christopher’s is of attending a Sunday service and sitting behind a tiny old lady (whom I later found out had a will of iron that her small stature did not convey). After the service, she turned around and said in a kind but firm voice, “You have a lovely voice. The choir rehearses at 7:30 on Wednesdays.” Instantly realizing that this was not a woman to be dismissed (and in fairness, wanting to be accepted as part of the community), I showed up at choir rehearsal on Wednesday.
Fast forward 22 years and St. Christopher’s and its people are interwoven with our Oak Park life. I still sing in the choir, which is made up of a lovely combination of people who were already “old-timers” when I arrived 23 years ago, and members who have arrived since.
I’ve always viewed St. Christopher’s as a wonderful mix of tradition and uncertainty. Tradition, because we are part of the worldwide Anglican community and Episcopal tradition. Translated, this means that you show up on Sunday and pretty much know what you’re going to get. Which is the same service format you got last week, as well as the same service format you’d find if you walked into most Episcopal churches in the United States on any given Sunday. I find great comfort in that. Unlike the much more casual Protestant tradition in which I was raised, the traditions of the Episcopal church allow me to lose myself in familiar words and routines. Kind of like meditation, but with candles and psalm chanting.
Uncertainty because the congregation can never really be certain what’s going to happen on any given Sunday, and we’re okay with that. We’ll just go with the flow. The scheduled chalice bearer didn’t show up? It’s fine…someone will just throw on vestments 30 seconds before the service and step in. Toddler crawling up the steps to the altar in the middle of the service? No sweat. Parishioner collapsing from the summer heat and being taken away in an ambulance? We’ll just continue on with singing the hymn. (Note that this last one doesn’t happen anymore, because we installed air conditioning.) We’re about as “high ritual, low maintenance” as they come. Our informal motto is “Come for the peace. Stay for the noise.”
Of course, it takes more than a mix of tradition and uncertainty to keep a person showing up every Sunday when they could be home reading the New York Times (not that I’ve ever considered that). For our family, which has no extended family in the area, it is the opportunity to create a supportive church family of people of all ages, lifestyles, and beliefs so that our children know that there are families out there beyond the ones at school. It is the opportunity to teach our children (and remind ourselves) that service to others in community – whether it’s ushering, lighting the candles and ringing the bells, singing in the choir, or mentoring youth – is part of our call as humans and Christians. And most of all, it’s the deep understanding that no matter where we are on the path – believing or not believing, comfortable or struggling, happy or weeping, pleasant or grumpy – we are all loved and accepted for exactly who we are.