She stood at the end of a row of empty seats, searching the arriving crowd with anticipation. She would wave when she saw them, familiar faces in the crowd of mostly tourists come to hear the Eucharist sung in one of the most glorious, most celebrated cathedrals in the world. But the splendor of the church was beyond this woman as she ushered her friends and families into the seats she had saved for them. She greeted each one with a kiss and gratitude for their coming.
As I watched the choir boys file in, I wondered which one was hers, this proud mama who had gathered a crowd to witness a confirmation.
Her last guests arrived holding a baby just as the music began. She made room for them and then took her seat at the end of the row. Head held high, she was all excitement and smiles.
Mary Polly and I had arrived early enough to be seated towards the front of the visiting section and enjoyed watching the seats fill as people wandered in. As the scene in front of me unfolded, I wondered at what it would be like to be a regular Sunday morning attendee at Westminster Abbey. To attend church in a place that held coronations and royal weddings.
I was caught off guard by how moved I was by the service. Traditions different from my childhood but similar to our Aberdeen church life, the songs and words were sweet to the ears of this traveler. I miss the word of God read aloud for corporate worship when I’m on the road.
My attention never left the woman in front of me and she participated in the liturgy with an enthusiasm I could appreciate.
The homily preceded the confirmation and I listened with awe to the man in black speak not in pompous tones as I had expected but with grace and gratitude about Jesus.
My Jesus, the same in a hot Arkansas YMCA gymnasium as He is in the hallowed halls of Westminster. All grace and good will toward men (and women).
‘If we follow him closely,’ the man preached on, ‘Jesus will always lead us to unexpected places.’
Don’t I know this to be true? My life this last year has been a series of unexpected journeys, all of them part of one great adventure, a story with no clear ending. Only mystery.
I scribbled notes into my program as the sermon drew to an end and the confirmation began. We sang together words that remind me of the great truths of the gospel, the incredible freedom we have in Jesus.
And then the people came forward who were to be confirmed. Mostly choir boys in long white robes, but also a few adults. She stood up, this woman I’d been watching. I thought that she must be helping in some capacity, that perhaps there were certificates to be handed out.
Not until the minister began to speak to the row of them did I realize that it is her and not her child being confirmed. Her face holds all the joy of one who has found faith in Christ.
When the Liturgy of Initiation began, she spoke the corporate words with confidence. She had clearly memorized the affirmations that I was reading from the pages of a program.
The minister finished the corporate questions, and then he addressed each candidate by name. Tears were rolling down my cheeks by now. How precious to be able to point back to this moment in your life that a man of God spoke simple and true words to you and you alone.
Then he called her by name, this woman I have been watching all morning. Her heart is so full as he says the words to her,
Morgan, God has called you by name and made you his own.
Then he anointed her head with oil, placed his hands on her head and said,
Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.
And we all answered, Amen.
After all the candidates had been anointed, the minister stepped back and said to them all,
Shine as a light in the world, as one of God’s chosen ones, beloved and accepted in Jesus Christ our Lord.
And again we answered Amen, mine a bit louder than those around me. Unfamiliar with corporate reading of liturgy, I find my cadence is always a bit off. But I could have stood on my chair and shouted Amen in solidarity with Morgan, a woman I had never met.
To watch a child affirm faith in Jesus is beautiful. I have had the great honor of seeing it in my own children and it makes my heart swell.
But it is a special kind of wonderful to see an adult come to Jesus. I love to see a grown man or woman stand alongside children in a baptism or confirmation, whether they are returning to the faith of their childhood or coming to God for the first time. Either way they understand Jesus’ command to become like a little child.
Humbled by life that brings me again and again to my knees, I cried tears of joy with Morgan. We both hold our hands up to Jesus in our different ways.
When the service was over, I wanted to tell her that it was a special privilege to watch her confirmation of faith. But she was surrounded by the happy friends and family who had come to watch. So I just gathered it into my heart. I turned to Mary Polly, who had found the entire service intolerably long and somewhat boring, and she was only a little surprised to find me in tears.
She rolled her eyes at my whispering, That was just so beautiful.
As we exited the Abbey in the same uniform manner in which we’d been escorted inside, someone tapped my shoulder and asked if I would take their family photo.
Of course I would. It would be my privilege.
And as I snapped the picture of Morgan with her family gathered around her in front of Westminster Abbey, I thanked The Lord for these small priceless gifts. That I was the one asked. That I caught one more glimpse of this daughter of God, beaming with joy.
We are partnering as a family with GowithOh this year as we travel around Europe, and our visit to Westminster was part of our June stay in London in a GowithOh apartment. Stay tuned for more glimpses of our life on the road.