I can’t begin to find all the words needed to describe how great it was to gather at the Tabernacle on Easter Sunday afternoon for the combined service with Grace Episcopal Church and St. Andrew’s. Live people together for a church service. It was awesome. And it brought home the reality that we’ve all missed each other so much. Even though we were seated a safe distance apart and everyone wore masks, it still felt like a “real” church experience, and a far cry from the Zoom and YouTube services we’ve grown used to.
Many clergy have spent pandemic Sundays celebrating services in front of video equipment instead of their congregations, and as much as we concede that at least we have that, there’s no substitute for gathering in person. When the Rev. Chip Seadale first began his homily, he seemed as happy about the service as I felt inside, saying with a wide grin, “This is exciting for me … it’s just really strange to preach in a church filled with nobody.”
The Episcopal churches weren’t the only Island congregations who took advantage of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association’s hospitality — the Federated Church and Good Shepherd Parish also held Easter Sunday services at the Tabernacle, putting that historical structure to good use. The Spiritual Life committee of the MVCMA was thrilled to see the Tabernacle occupied, according to an email I received from Sarah Leaman, who is a member of the committee. Three different denominations worshipping at the Tabernacle on Easter was a first in the long history of the structure.
While I looked all around and listened to the terrific music provided by Griffin and Sean McMahon, along with drummer Ted MacInnes, I kept thinking to myself, “If this is what every Sunday was like, everyone would go to church.” Songs included a couple of my favorites, “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” and one of my favorite Hank Williams tunes, “I Saw the Light.” We brought my son, Dan, to the service, and he loved the music too.
The experience made me think (and isn’t that what it’s supposed to do) about attending church, and what that means for me personally. A lot of people go to church only at Christmas and Easter, the really “big” days on the Christian calendar. When I was going to church every Sunday, I’d think to myself, “Well, I never see this person or that person at church unless it’s a holiday,” as if I must somehow be the better person. The truth is, I was that “other” person a couple of weeks ago on Easter Sunday. I haven’t been to church regularly since we moved here nearly nine years ago.
The flowers, the music, the prayers, the Gospel readings, the preaching — I enjoyed all of it that day. And what I also noticed was that I was surrounded by a group of people from the community who were enjoying it as well. There’s no mistaking that being part of it, sitting there in such a sacred space, touched me on a level that hasn’t been reached in a long time.
Father Chip referred to something in his homily, and I can’t quote it verbatim here, but he said something like when he first started preaching years ago, he thought he’d really have to blow the roof off the place on a day like Easter Sunday. He’s changed since then, he alluded, so that now he’s come to realize that just a mustard seed, just a tiny little piece, can resonate with someone who is listening. I think he’s right.
That service, shared by two congregations and, likely, people like me who haven’t been to church in a while, was truly remarkable, and I can’t wait until they do it again. Meanwhile, I was roaming around the MVCMA website and found out that they already have the 2021 season booked with guest preachers at the Tabernacle. Check out the lineup at mvcma.org/sunday-services.html, and maybe I’ll see you there.
On Sunday, April 18, the Rev. Dr. Jim Antal will deliver an Earth Day sermon for the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, followed by a discussion of his book “Climate Church, Climate World, How People of Faith Must Work for Change.” Both the sermon and book discussion will take place on Zoom. The worship service begins at 10 am and the book discussion will begin at approximately 11 am. Should be a great reminder that we’re all responsible for taking care of our environment.