Sunday, during the Gospel concert at Virginia-Highland Church, I couldn’t help but recall that it was for one of these July concerts in 2016 that Bill was last in the church. He was weak, but people were so happy to see him. He wanted to be supportive of the music program, who later would do a magnificent job at his memorial service.
Expending the waning energy of his life to support the ministry of other people was so typical of Bill. I think that is what separates the saints from the rest of us mere disciples. They don’t seem to let anything keep them from being who they are and doing what they can.
On Sunday, our church celebrated its 94th anniversary, and present in the congregation was Miss Blanche, who joined the church almost at the start when she was only four. Miss Blanche is our most faithful attender every year. Although her mind is sharp and her singing voice still amazing, she requires a walker and a nurse to accompany her. None of that keeps her from her church, however, where her very presence reminds us what it means to be faithful to promises made almost a century ago to her church and to her God.
I give Miss Blanche a copy of my sermon each week, and she often talks to me about what I had said that she missed the week before. She blames it on her hearing, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that she might have missed it because I skipped it or missed it in my notes. I can’t help but wonder what on earth I, or any preacher, could say that she, at nearly a century, hasn’t heard before. Still, one of the things that makes her a saint is that she still attends small groups or studies to learn more and refine her spiritual life. Amazing, inspiring, and challenging are just a few of the things Miss Blanche is to me and to our church.
At the end of Sunday’s service, right before I pronounced the benediction, a stranger stood to ask us to pray for him because he was about to be homeless. These moments are the things of a preacher’s nightmares, but it was mercifully painless. It also was inspiring to watch the congregation surround him with love and support afterwards. We have a great homeless ministry at VHC, and we received a $500,000 check this week to support it. What impressed me, though, was that a moment that might have made many churches uncomfortable was experienced by those sitting in our pews as an opportunity to practice what we preach. I think that is the only path to walk from being a mere disciple to becoming a saint.
Rev. Michael Piazza