Yesterday, All Saints Sunday, we walked into the crowded sanctuary at Bethany Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, Virginia. The screen above the pulpit displayed a slideshow of names: church members from the past 200 years who had gone before us: infants, some with only that name, children, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, those who had died in wars. Many are buried on the grounds of the original Bethany-Lutheran Church in Crimora.
Keith and I made our way to the pew on the left, third from the front. Colorful children’s quilts crafted by the women of the church, including me, were draped over the backs and seats of the pews. Our pastor Tim Bohlmann would dedicate the quilts before their shipment to a mission in Peru.
“Welcome, my friends,” Pastor Tim said to gather us, “and a special welcome to those who are new to us today.” He shook the hand of a young man (I’ll call Robert) sitting in the front pew. His backpack rested on the floor next to him. “Robert here is an AT hiker from New Hampshire headed to Florida, did I get that right?” Pastor said. Robert nodded as they shook hands. Waynesboro is the nearest town to the Appalachian Trail’s stop at Rockfish Gap in Afton, so hikers are common sights along the road into town – but perhaps not in church.
After the first hymn and prayer, we greeted and wished each other God’s peace. Robert joined the throng – Keith and I were two pews behind him. As the AT hiker’s ruddy face approached, the smell of many campfires stung my nostrils. We shook hands firmly and smiled our greetings then returned to our seats.
Next in the order of worship was an infant baptism. The baby boy with peach-fuzz hair slept through the first part but startled awake when his mother and father positioned him for baptism. He didn’t cry. Actually, he seemed to enjoy the whole process. As Pastor Tim carried the newly baptized child down the aisle, I noticed the AT hiker turned so his eyes could follow. He seemed to enjoy the ceremony, too.
The Old Testament reading was Exodus 40, followed by the Holy Gospel from Matthew 5:1-12 – the Sermon on the Mount. As the congregation rose before the New Testament reading, I looked up and saw the message on the back of Robert’s hiking sweatshirt.
In memory of my son, Dad and 2 little brothers.
Then I knew why Robert had stepped off the trail and come to join us for All Saints Sunday.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Pastor read.
Today is my father’s 92nd birthday. Though he’s been gone almost twenty years, I thought about him yesterday. And we remembered Keith’s daughter, too, and those who have gone before us.
And we, like Robert, were comforted.