“What is your most memorable experience in church?” – This is one of my favorite questions to ask newcomers, couples engaged to be married, someone hoping to identify their gifts for ministry or a couple who come in to say they are leaving or moving away. I never give examples or try to explain the question further, and since people are usually not expecting the question, their responses are often immediate, important moments in their spiritual journey come to mind. Their stories reveal times when they most felt loved in Christian community or sensed God’s presence. e.g. Christmas Eve when they sang “Silent Night” by candlelight; their first child’s Baptism; their Confirmation; taking communion in the early morning along a lake at Camp; a parish mission trip to Honduras; kneeling next to their parents in prayer after receiving Communion; a moment at the altar rail when the bread and wine brought them closer to Christ; a hymn that really touched them. I have known many people who have returned to that same place, hoping to experience it again, and sometimes they have. But more often not.
These mysterious, unexpected and wonderful moments of God are hard to describe, like love, joy, or peace, and can’t be arranged, requested or repeated because the Holy Spirit blows where it will, and only sometimes do we feel the breeze. When we do, suddenly God seems very real and very close, and then is gone, but the memory remains forever. These are personal epiphanies of God’s presence. The Celtic Christians called these moments, “thin places”, a metaphor for those times or places when the boundary between the sacred and the ordinary feels “thin”. A “thin place” is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to get a glimpse of the glory of God. A contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between this world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space.
These experiences are not limited to the Celtics, or to Christians. Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, in his spiritual message to the world in 1931 said, “There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”
May the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds open to the presence of Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
My most memorable moment was provided by a former St Albans rector in one of his sermons. The message was, “If you want forgiveness up there, you have to give it down here.” That simple message changed my life and how I deal with people and tough situations. It made me a better person and a better Christian.
Bishop Mariann’s ChristmS Eve sermon touches on similar theme…perfect fix of good minds and hearts.
Wow — so many! And some “most memorable church moments” have not bee In church but OF church. I am a great believer in thin places and have been surprised and awed when I’ve found myself in one — or the thin places found me.
The thin places are, for me, when “we see through a glass, darkly”. They all seem to be associated with Love
I love the quote from the Mahatma. He explains what my favorite momenmts are in church. Of corse many of my favorite moments of church take place outside church–like seeing a homeless person smile, a flower in bloom in February when it is supposed to be underground and waiting for spring and other “moving” momemnts along the journey. Thanks Carol for your insightful insights. Peter