CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Once, long ago, I was visiting a singularly beautiful church which was itself a work of art and a statement of faith. The large worship space contained all the usual things one expects. There was a fine organ, a place for the choir, a pulpit for preaching, a lectern for reading, and a table for celebrating the Holy Communion. The baptismal font featured running water.
Just a walk into this room made me aware of all the folks who had sung the hymns over the decades of this church's existence. It was not constructed to be like an ornate church, but rather it was a reflection of the simplicity and accessibility of the faith preached therein. Some would say it reflected a modern spirit.
On a wall, there were banners. I usually enjoy looking at fabric art, and most of the time the church banners contain either the name of the congregation or words of faith. I have seen many kinds of banners; some made of precious materials, and others of simple faith with childlike designs. Banners are neat because they have a life of their own. They can wave in the breeze, or as they are carried in procession. The air conditioner may begin to circulate cool air and thus help the congregation to feel more comfortable. The banners can move gracefully in the cooling air.
The banners I saw were a bit different. On each of them symbols were mounted that stood for key events in the life of the congregation. One banner featured the symbols (as I remember) of joined rings, standing for the weddings that had occurred in the church in the past year. On another, were more solemn symbols standing for the death of church members. Baptisms were also marked, and the births of children. Graduations were celebrated with their own symbols. It was an inspiring sight. The lively and living congregation could proclaim through the banners that we belong to God in life and in death.
I was a bit troubled though. Not troubled enough to run to the church office and shout that some things were missing from the beautiful banners. I kept my own counsel. But here in my writing room, I am offering some thoughts about those banners. To be truthful, I am offering thoughts about your banners, the ones you might wave in the breeze or decorate with symbols.
While death was noted on one of the church's banners, I wondered how a designer could make a symbol for the breaking of relationships. Surely, there were divorces or separations in that congregation, as there are in many congregations. How should we proclaim, in the context of faith, the loss of a job or a severe financial reversal? Financial reverses seem to be part of today's news, and church coffers are less full because of stock market drops or the poor interest paid to old people who have saved for the time to come. How about a symbol for someone's incarceration or arrest? Think of that flood in the basement of a home.
Go on, embroider your banner and carry it in procession on the Lord's day.
We won't actually. For the most part, these are hidden banners, perhaps very small ones, folded carefully and placed in purse or pocket. Or our banners may not be physical at all, but hidden in the recesses of our minds, or as we say, in our hearts.
Time and the Lord may help the sorrows of our lives fade somewhat, be cleansed. Still, my personal banner has sorrowful mysteries as well as joyful ones. Do I take my banner to church and wave it? No, I do not, for the reason that the people in the benches do not do so. If we were to display our unique banners, we could become overwhelmed by so many of them waving in the still air of the place of worship.Posey is a retired Presbyterian minister who writes from his home in Charleston.