John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. 40 For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward. – Mark 9:38-41
Are you planning on taking a vacation or slowing down a bit this summer? My family will be away for a week and we plan on taking other days off here and there through the summer for mini trips and to visit friends. While I look forward to some Sabbath time I always worry when I leave work for awhile. I fret and think: will Grace Church be okay while I’m gone?
The last time Grace Van Vorst had a Property Day I was on the Erie Street side of the church yard hacking away at the over grown ivy with Hannah when I uncovered a coconut. This being Jersey City, I would have just shrugged and thought someone got a little too happy drinking pina coladas after the West Indian parade, but the coconut was the fifth one I found in the yard that day and there were others before. What’s with the coconuts? I asked a few people this question until Donald Gallagher told me that a Hindu community sometimes puts them in our yard as an offering.
Years ago while living by a Roman Catholic Church I’d see some people genuflect when they passed the statue of Mary. Once, one of the town characters drew pupils on the marble eyes of the statue of St. Francis outside of his namesake’s church. Why, you ask? This guy liked praying to Francis but wanted better eye contact from him when he did so took care of this problem with a Sharpie. Every once in awhile after the first frost, when I remove a scarf from around the neck of the Jesus on the crucifix outside Grace Church that a homeless guest has lovingly draped around him, I remember these things.
These stories make me laugh out loud and squeeze my heart simultaneously just like so many other times when Jesus has shown up. And when I worry like an anxious mother hen, the best part of these stories is they remind me that the church is a place of refuge, welcome, prayer and gift giving even without my effort or yours.
Want more proof? Here are some other recent examples:
Several people remarked on how gorgeous the church garden looked this spring. That’s because our neighbor Anna has been tending to it. No, she never comes to church, at least not on Sunday morning.
Most of the people who volunteer at the Breakfast Plus program to serve meals to our homeless and food insecure guests are not members at Grace. Our friend Jenny (also not a member of Grace) has been unofficially organizing the volunteers for over a decade. There is also a Baha’i community that regularly comes to serve hungry people here too.
Sometimes when I’m out and about in a collar in Jersey City I’m asked what church I serve. When I say “Grace Van Vorst” every once in awhile the person I’m talking to will say, “That’s my church!” Then they’ll tell me a story about how they went to summer camp here when they were little or about how something happened here, like an AA meeting or some small act of kindness- that changed their life.
I collect stories like these like some people collect stamps. They remind me that I while I have the keys and this church is full of joyous, talented, self giving people, the church is God’s and God is at work at Grace in ways we can’t plan, quantify or manage. If we’re lucky, we may just stumble across evidence of this now and then, like a coconut in the ivy.