We were so proud of Saint George parish and we were touched by their outpouring of love. The farewell luncheon was more than memorable.
Today Sunday September 5th, the Altar of Saint George Albuquerque was served by their new priest. It makes me think of when we were there for the first time 4 years ago.
When you first meet a parish you don't think of what a good-bye might look like. You don't think about how they will have changed as a group when it is time for you to leave. But that is just what stands out the most when it is time to say good-bye. Everything they did for the farewell was like a testimony to their level of growth in their dedication to the Lord. Their desire and ability to put their best into action for another is like a fingerprint for this time of their lives. They have their own way of doing things, yes, but they do it very well.
I think Father Paul was a little nervous that last Sunday. He made sure that he was there good and early. It was going to be a big day for him. It had been a very big 3 months or so since the time that he first announced his intentions to accept the invitation from the Archbishop of New Zealand. He wanted to put any "finishing touches" that he could to the work he did for the Lord in New Mexico. His last day was no different. All of his concentration was on there being a very prayerful liturgy for the faithful.
What I encountered upon my arrival to the church that day, was how deeply people wanted to keep our eye contact. In some there was disbelief in their eyes, in others they seemed to be recalling images of the past 4 years. In every greeting there was warmth and sincerity, and yes, sadness.
As the Sanctuary was filling up more quickly than usual. I made my way to the chanters' stand.
Our chanter CG graciously let me chant the Liturgy that day. My Byzantine "jazz" is not what he is used to, and I imagine he must wonder why I bother. He works so hard to do everything as traditionally as possible. Regardless of his steadfast talents, he was supportive throughout the service. He knew how much it meant to me to do more than occupy a pew on that day. Granted on any other Sunday, being there is more than enough. Even when it came time to sing the Cherubic Hymn which most times is the hardest one to chant, he listened with his heart and encouraged. For our final Sunday I wanted desperately to offer my voice as a gift.
Maybe you don't know what I mean by Byzantine Jazz. You can think of it as what musically inclined, untrained chanters do. We don't sing according to written music, rather we sing in the confines of a traditional mode, and move the music according to rules that strive to reflect the text that is being sung. When we sing joyful things we sing higher notes. When we sing of sorrowful things, like Christ's suffering, we sing lower and perhaps flatter notes. That's not all it is about, but it goes with the intentions of the written music, and it works for the most part.
It seems that all ears were merciful and of course I had the steady help of Nika and Rapha who chanted with us, and so did their friends PC and EM. There is a photo of us at the chanter's stand.... SW was taking photos and they were beautiful!
|After a beautiful Liturgy with Nicholia, Raphaela, CG, and LM|
The altar was filled with all the altar boys that could be present, and priest friends. Father George a priest from the All Saints parish, and a very traditional and loving man, had retired just the week before and that made him available for us! His presence with his Presvytera, and of Father Dimitri and Presvytera Meredeth from Santa Fe, and Father Joshua warmed us tremendously. Father Deacon George was there and read the Gospel. Sub-deacon Collumbkille came too.
Father George the priest gave the sermon and it was more than enlightening and more than a mere testimony to my husband's work in this parish. It was a marriage of words and lessons so uniquely arranged I was sure I had not heard a sermon like it before. He spoke most completely and thoroughly on the Gospel, and then he wove in our personal life in Christ and a testimony to Father Paul's ministry so that it did not detract from the essential Gospel message. And he did something else. He knitted our hearts to the past 4 years, i so we could see, that by our willingness, we the congregation supported the vine dresser and servant of God: the priest. He talked about how the renovations in the Sanctuary were yet another testimony of the harmonious work that had been done there.
As the Liturgy continued, and especially during Holy Communion, my heart could not recognize that we were leaving at all! It seemed impossible that this could be our last Liturgy here. It was as if I were becoming even more a part of this community, and that we will always belong to each other. That day and those past 4 vibrant and meaningful years are in the eternal memory of The Eternal God. And so the Lord has comforted me with His love for this parish and community even more, even though we are departing.
This is how I have come to feel about all the parishes and people I have known. Is there ever such a thing as "good-bye"? I don't know. While I myself wanted to belong to this parish for a long time more, the Lord is moving us to tend another part of His one big vineyard. I can't understand it really. These are impressions and glimpses of something I experienced. This experience made me happy. It made me happy to have had the 4 years rather than regretting our loss.
It is a great thing for people to see what roles they play in the life of a community, and how they work together with the work of the priest. God uses each and every kindness for the building up of our souls in a community of love. This is what was the essence of Father Paul's message to the congregation at the end of the Liturgy. It was short and sweet, and honest.
|Father Paul with members of parish council reading announcements|
As we exited, we were greeted by people and their hugs. In the bright New Mexico sunshine, we gave one last look, one last touch, one last chance to connect, until we made our way to the social hall for a very lovely luncheon so that we can formally do the same as one big group. But again it seemed like a time to show our appreciation for each other more than anything.
I had asked for my family to be on the stage for the meal, which is not normal for us. The hall was filled, and there wasn't a better way to see all the people who had come. Each view out towards the floor, was like a bouquet of people. Each person beautiful in his own way, but also they were beautiful together. They managed to seat everyone who came. Of them were our personal friends who were not parishioners Mr and Mrs LG.
One of the funny comments going throughout the prior week was "Can you believe that the parish council, Philoptochos, The Daughters of Penelope, and AHEPA all worked together on one event!" Really this made everyone wonder about the changes that we had all gone through over the past 4 years, as these church organizations typically work separately. Against all expectations, together, they made a delicious meal, and brought so much hospitality into the room with the yellow flowers and table settings, that even I noticed the effort in everything they did.
The parish gave Father Paul a new cross which is the loveliest I have seen for a priest. May he wear it in good health, and may it be a blessing to those who find comfort in it as I do. He wore it today at Saints Constantine and Helen in Middletown OH, and it was like having the parish of Saint George with us too!
Father Paul chose not to talk so much at the luncheon. He did walk over to his clergy friends and introduced them to everyone after the meal, and allowed them each to say a few words. Father Nicholay the new priest from All Saints made it with his family.... I hope they got something to eat, I can't remember. ...Then Fr Paul gave the mic over to me so that I could thank the community on behalf of our family for all their support and care.
I wanted to share with our community once more how it is that Father Paul could leave and go so far away. I am sure that our family and friends from other places would like to know a little about that too. To put it briefly, Father Paul has been asked to take on a responsibility, one that he himself would like to do well. As a family we do this with faith and trust in the Lord above that He will not merely provide for our physical needs, but especially for our spiritual needs. We need His care to do well. We need His guidance and His mercy to stay the course. But we hope that we will come back having done well.
When we FINALLY get to NZ, we will not be alone at all. Waiting there for us is a group of people who have so much support to give through their prayers and service that we are eager to be a part of them. I hope to tell you a little about them in future entries.
Our two daughters walked through the crowd at various times making sure that they did their part. Our son had to be encouraged to get down from his favorite tree. I think he taught half the boys his age how to climb it. I guess he had to say his good-byes too.
When all was done, it took a long time for the hall to empty. We greeted anyone who could stay and do it just one more time... "say good-bye".
We went home and continued the packing up of the house.
Later in the evening I had to rest my head on a much needed shoulder.