This Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday. During the communion liturgy, we will name aloud those members of our church family who have died since last All Saints’ Sunday. Many years ago, at the Cathedral of Hope, we began the practice of gathering the photographs of those we remember and showing them as the choir sings. It was so moving that I continued the practice when I came to Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta.
Of course, this church is much smaller, so we have significantly fewer people who die each year. We have an opportunity, then, also to remember people in the culture at large who we grieve as a nation or a community. In that spirit, this year we will include in our remembrance some saints who profoundly impacted my life and ministry and, I suppose, through me, have impacted the churches I’ve served.
It feels as if all the mentors in my life died this past year: Fred Craddock, my preaching professor; Lyle Schaller, my church growth guru; Robert Schuller, the only person who would help us when we were building a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender megachurch; Marcus Borg, who so often gave me the words for what I believed; Phyllis Tickle, who made it so much fun to be free to say what you are really thinking, even in church.
Their smiling faces will appear with the saints of my congregation and family members. Most of the folks sitting in our pews won’t know who they are, but the truth is they have heard their voices. Every one of them has spoken through my lips. They shaped me and thousands of others, and they will live on all over this country on Sunday, whether the churches remember them overtly or not.
It seems to me that is the most any of us could ever hope for. Oh, there are extraordinary people who come around only once in a generation, but, today, you and I have a chance to speak a kind word and offer a gentle touch that will make a person’s journey easier and their life stronger. There are dozens of opportunities for us to live on through others because of the good we do … and because of the hurts we leave behind. In the end, that alone decides our legacy.
If your face was one of those shown in church this Sunday, what would people remember about you?
Rev. Michael Piazza