Sunday, November 14, 2010
This afternoon was our last public service at St. Stephen's. The community was invited. I recognized guests from all the other Episcopal Churches in town and from the Lutheran church across the street, the one whose congregation worshipped with us for several months after their sanctuary was damaged in a fire.
I also saw a number of old friends, including at least three people who now live out of state, and others who used to come to St. Stephen's but now belong to other parishes. The place was mobbed. As someone commented ruefully, "Y'know, if we had this many people here all the time, we wouldn't have to close."
It was a lovely service. The music was glorious -- especially with that many voices joining in on the hymns -- and the bishop's homily was sensitive and pastoral. I was nonetheless miserable through the entire liturgy, sitting there with tears running down my face. I wasn't alone: I saw other people crying, too. But I still felt very isolated, partly because some of the visitors (people I was genuinely delighted to see) brought back a welter of complicated memories, many painful.
After the service, there was a reception in the parish hall, with a lavish spread. Ordinarily I'd have stayed to eat and chat, but I was feeling claustrophobic and was still weepy, so I got out of there. Chatting probably would have made me feel better. I knew that. I still needed to get out of the building.
Next Sunday, we're having our last-service-ever. The community isn't invited to that one: it's "just us," as someone put it, which means there will be maybe twenty people there. It's going to be very hard.
After the service, I talked a bit to a friend -- also in tears -- who's already started attending her new parish (as I have), but who's finding it hard to invest in a new place. She gave St. Stephen's her all, and I think the idea of making that kind of commitment again fills her with exhaustion. Or maybe I interpreted the conversation that way just because it's how I feel. At any rate, she said that she doesn't want to get deeply involved in a new place anytime soon. "I just want to go to church." She's picked a large parish where she can be invisible; I've picked the smallest service at a mid-sized parish, where I can hang out on the margins for a while before figuring out if I want to move closer to the center.
Sitting in my pew during the service, I realized that I started attending St. Stephen's the same year we got Harley. The parish and the cat died the same year, too. Harley's death sharpened some of my grief for my mother, who was with me when I got him from the shelter; the loss of the parish is doing the same thing. Although Mom hated church, she went me with when she was visiting. She loved a Christmas Eve service where my friend Katharine sang, and I have fond memories of her listening to me preach one Christmas morning, beaming at me -- even though she hated church -- because she loved me and (for a wonder) enjoyed the homily.
I'm really glad Gary and I are getting out of town for Christmas. I think that was absolutely the right decision.