June 22, 2016

The Gift of a Gifted Teacher

When I was in the second grade, I had a very gifted teacher:  Mrs. Roscher.  She was from “away,” somewhere in New England, I think, and I am not sure how she ended up teaching in a small, poor, rural school.  Our school was grades one through twelve, the first six grades on the first floor and seven through high school upstairs.  There was one long corridor on each level with bathrooms at the end in an open air porch.  The cafeteria and the shop were separate buildings. 

The second grade classroom was the second (of course!) room on the right as you entered the north end of the building.  Like all the rooms on that floor it had what we called a cloak room – really a screen at the back with hooks for our coats.  Our desks were in neat rows, all lined up. We sat in alphabetical order, I think. Mrs. Roscher had shelves of things, interesting things, around the room.  And there were books, so many books.  Those of us who wanted to got to read to the class after lunch.  I remember once reading “Horton Hears a Who” in that drowsy, contented time after eating bologna sandwiches and chocolate pudding for lunch.

During that year, our teacher brought in a microscope and we looked at a drop of blood – at least this is how I remember it.  She asked us what we saw.  I thought I saw salt, but she said it was white blood cells.  I don’t know if it was possible that we actually saw the cells but because she said that, I was aware that there were whole universes we could not comprehend. 

One of the most amazing things we did that year was to build a pueblo village.  We made cardboard dwellings and painted them with a mixture of tempera paint and sand.  We studied what the people would have eaten, and we ate some of those foods.  And we got to choose a Native American name for ourselves and design an outfit with that name on it.  My name was “Singing-in-the-Clouds.”  And on a burlap bag with a hole cut for the neck and two for the arms, I sewed beads in an arrangement that had music notes (how did I know what they were?) floating up into two clouds.  All these years later, I remember sewing the beads on that burlap, and imagining myself living in that tiny village we had made with paper and paint. I was seven years old and it was a formative experience – being pulled out of our small close-knit community to envision other worlds, other seven-year-old girls, eating different food and having lovely names.  I somehow became Singing-in-the-Clouds and maybe some part of that long ago identity is with me still.

So here is to the all the gifted teachers I have known – my mother, my sister, my niece, my friends – and Mrs. Roscher.  Thank you!

June 19, 2016

Back Door Christian

A year ago, I completed a season of ministry with a beloved congregation.  It was hard to say goodbye and I have missed being with them. But they are strong and healthy and have been joined by new pastors, and I celebrate that!

I have been worshipping at a nearby church where some of my friends are members.  In those early days of last summer, it was strange to arrive for worship along with everyone else, to search for a parking place, to go in the front door, receive a bulletin that I had not prepared, and find a place in the pew.  People were warm and welcoming, though, and the place soon began to feel familiar.  I quickly came to appreciate the care and the call present in the preaching.  The music was strong and beautiful.  And the commitment of the church to justice and peace was important to me.  

For several months, I continued to come and go through the front door.  Then I joined the choir.  The first time I came to choir practice at the church, I went as usual to the front door, only to find it locked.  Choir members entered instead by the door around in back, and so did I.  

I’ve continued entering by that back door, not just for choir, but also on Sunday mornings.  I see people in the parking lot that I am starting to know and we exchange morning pleasantries.  I enjoy the happy commotion of those who are setting up for coffee hour.  I see what new art is displayed.  I share conversation with others in the pew as we wait for the prelude.  It has started to feel like home.  And it was the back door that made the difference.  After all, it is the back door where family enters. 

Church growth experts rightly point out the importance of a welcoming presence at the front door when a visitor arrives. But the real welcome is not just a smile and a greeting.  It is the promise that the back door, as well as the front, is also open.