A Note from Jim: January 27th, 2023
Love so amazing…
In my long ago childhood, I was a Presbyterian, raised up as part of the congregation of Lexington Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Virginia, whose Minister was a wonderful, brilliant, kind Scotsman whom I knew as Dr. Murray. Into that beautiful church came, each Sunday, hundreds of families who joined in worship with several hundred cadets from nearby Virginia Military Institute where my father was an administrator and coach. That church was in many ways my salvation. My dad was a complicated and often brutal man, and I–this little “sissy” boy–was not the son he had hoped for. The two of us never settled into anything close to a loving relationship. I was, however, taken in and raised up and held close by many many people from church. I sang in the children’s choir under the tutelage of a wonderful woman who discovered that I was a great boy soprano and set to teaching me how to use my voice, how to sing, and all about the joy of music, something that has accompanied and enriched me ever since. The two men and two women, all siblings, who farmed a vast acreage across the road from our own modest post-war bungalow made their home my home, and they were a refuge and strength. Dr. Murray taught me, by example and in his sermons, what it could mean to be a follower of Christ.
In that very Presbyterian congregation, we had Communion once a month. Little squares of white bread arrayed on silver trays and tiny glasses of wine carried in large round trays were passed down each row of seats for our Holy Meal. And before that meal began, we always sang the hymn we will sing this week in church, “When I survey the wondrous cross.” I was perplexed by the paradox of wondrous cross, something my pre-teen mind couldn’t quite grasp. What I always was able to grasp was the lyric that ends the hymn: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” In spite of the abuse I endured almost daily from my father, I knew what amazing love was because it was shown me over and over again by the minister and members of the church that, thank God, we attended religiously, and where, ironically, my father each week taught a Men’s Bible Class that was really good. (I still have the notebooks containing his lesson plans and materials, and they are everything they should have been. We humans are a complicated species!)
Ever since, my quest has been in part to live in and help construct and support communities in which amazing love is made manifest, demanding the lives, the souls, the “all” of every one of us who was a part of the community. I have learned across all of my ministries–whether with brutalized children living on the streets of Philadelphia, or people living as I lived for so long on society’s margins or in its deepest crevasses because of who we are as LGBTQIA+ people, or all of us who had to figure out how to live through and care for one another during the HIV/AIDS pandemic, or people struggling to build community in the middle of an Ivy League campus where our enterprise was viewed with skepticism or even outright scorn–I have learned that people will indeed give, sometimes quite literally, their lives, their souls, their all, into communities in which they are engaged because they are rooted in and sharing out God’s Love.
How then, when this is not the case, can it become so for the community of St. Martin-in-the-Fields? And when it is the case, how can it be more the case? Because if St. Martin’s can be more and more the generous hands and open heart of God, a place where God’s amazing Love is made manifest and where we are captured and held and strengthened and graced and empowered by that amazing Love, that Divine Love, I am sure our lives, our souls, our all will follow.
Pray often and pray how we, together, God’s gathered people at St. Martin’s, can better give our lives into our community and world as God’s Light and Love made real and visible. It is a sure thing that it was Love like that, Love so amazing, that took me in and held me close and shaped my life forever. Let’s love with that same life-giving, often life-saving generosity.
The Rev. James H. Littrell
Tags: Clergy & Staff