A paper in the pew
On Saturday, we hosted a small wedding at Stafford United Methodist Church. The bride and groom limited their guest list to immediate family, due to Covid-19.
If not for this pandemic, the sanctuary would’ve been filled; the Hildebrands have long been a part of our church and community. However, this wasn’t Jordan Hildebrand and Josh Roemerman’s first choice, for a wedding venue. They had planned to get married in March down in Branson, surrounded by extended family and friends—until Covid came along.
As the gathering restrictions lifted early this summer, the family contacted us to see if the church could be available. This was where Jordan was baptized, and spent much of her time as a youth. We thought we would be able to accommodate them, as long as the situation remained stable.
And so, for the past couple of months, I met with Josh and Jordan online, getting them ready for their wedding: making plans, getting to know them a little better, and beginning conversations surrounding key areas that most newly married couples deal with.
After rehearsal on Friday, we sat around tables in Fellowship Hall, spaced apart. We talked about how wedding memories are often made when things don’t go according to plan. Jordan also told me the name of the pastor she remembered most, as a youth: Casey Crosby.
The next day, about 20 minutes before the wedding, I was informed that the coolest place in the church—the sanctuary—was beginning to get warm. So, I went up into the balconies to check the thermostats. Up on the east side, I sat down for a few moments at the end of a pew. I don’t know why; perhaps to take a breather, or just to see what it felt like, sitting there.
And then I looked down, and saw a piece of paper in a Bible. I expected this to be a bulletin from four or five years ago. Instead, I found out it was from April 1990. That bulletin had been there for two decades!
I made my way back to my office, and ran into Jordan. “Here,” I said. “I think you’re supposed to have this.” Why? Because the pastor’s name at the top was the same name she had shared, the night before.
As she glanced at the bulletin, Jordan noted names of people she remembered fondly. Later, she would tell me it meant even more, because one of the families listed, the Davies, belonged to one of her best friends. Melody had been killed in a car accident a decade or so, later. Her service had taken place in that same sanctuary. The bulletin, she explained, also was from the same week as Melody’s birthday. And, I might add, the bulletin celebrated our town’s recent graduates, back then. I found it on the same day that Stafford was holding its delayed high school graduation, this year.
“If you needed affirmation that you were supposed to be here today, in this place, that God is truly with us, I think you just received it,” I told Jordan.
During the wedding ceremony, I talked about the witnesses who were gathered there, for this glorious event. I also mentioned the great cloud of witnesses we are surrounded by. In Christendom we talk about, and believe in, the communion of saints. Somehow, through the supernatural power of God, we are united or gathered together with all the believers in Christ who came before us, as well as those who will come after. This happens especially when we celebrate Holy Communion together. It may sound a bit like time travel or fantasy, but this is merely in alignment with the eternal nature of our God, his infinity. Time, indeed, is in the Lord’s hands.
Even though Covid kept Josh and Jordan’s treasured family and friends away that day, I believe they were surrounded by those folks, as well as so many others who could only be spiritually present. And once again the Lord showed himself to be such a loving Father that he would allow a seemingly random discovery to bring Jordan such comfort and joy.
Truly, the Lord was revealing his presence, breaking through, out of his deep, deep love for his children.
“Consider yourselves kissed by God, today!” I told the couple as they stood together, in front of the altar.
Now, if you are a mathematician of any kind, perhaps you can begin to work
out the probability of all of this, happening. What are the chances that a programmable thermostat might shut off, right before a wedding? (Okay, maybe that’s not so improbable… ha.) What are the chances that I would choose to sit down, on one side and not the other, of the balconies? What are the chances I would sit in that particular pew, and look down and see a piece of paper sticking out of a Bible? What are the chances that no one found and pulled that bulletin in the past 20 years, since it was left there? What are the chances that all of this would happen on one certain day in April, on Jordan Hildebrand’s wedding day, when she, perhaps more than other brides, would be familiar with the names in that bulletin?
“Hey, someone doodled on the back!” Jordan said, holding it up for me to see.
I’d only casually noticed the pencil sketches before handing it to her.
“It was probably one of your friends,” I said, shrugging with a smile.
Some people think of God as an oppressive ruler… a harsh critic, waiting to pounce at any moment. I’ve come to know him as someone who will go to great lengths to show his children just how precious they are. Even a young couple on their wedding day, who had to pinch themselves to believe it was finally, actually going to happen.
Yes, indeed, we were aware of the powerful presence of God in our midst, as well as a roomful of witnesses.
“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge… at your right hand. Guard me as the apple of (your) eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” —Psalm 17:6-8 (NRSV)