One of my fondest Christmas memories is attending 11:00 PM services with my mom. We would go to St. Philip’s Episcopal Chapel, a small “mission” church located just five minutes from our home. The chapel was packed. For many, this was the only time of year they made it to church. We were no exception.
One Christmas Eve after I had graduated from college, the priest, Fr. Larry Seyler, explained that the Episcopal Church had ruled any “Christian" was welcome at the Lord’s table. I went forward to receive communion for the first time. I didn’t belong to a church. I wasn’t even baptized. But Father Larry made me feel welcome.
The following year I was a first-year seminary student and attended services at Trinity Episcopal Church in Solebury, located about three miles from St. Philip’s. Since then, I have worshiped in many different churches – Episcopal, Presbyterian, UCC, Lutheran and Methodist – but I will always consider St. Philip’s my home.
Many this Christmas will choose to go to the church of their youth. I will not be going to St. Philip’s but I am planning to go to services with my son (weather permitting) in his home in Upstate New York. It will be our first time attending church there, and we hope we will feel welcome.
When I decided to attend seminary and pursue a calling in the ministry I had little or no experience with the institutional church. I knew absolutely nothing about memberships, budgets, facilities management, or vestries, sessions and deacons. I only know God had touched me and I wanted to devote my life to serving “Him”, whatever that meant.
I have been serving as pastor at First Presbyterian Church since Easter of this year. I’m still a relative newcomer, but I have found it to be a very welcoming congregation. My prayer for all of you who read this that you will find a welcoming congregation wherever you choose to worship. I know that it was Father Larry’s words of welcome that planted seeds of God’s love that have remained with me to this day. I will not be at First Presbyterian this Christmas Eve, but I will be in spirit and in that spirit I extend a warm welcome to all who attend.
Pastor Steve Row