Where Two or Three Are Gathered

Matters of Faith

church dark

Throughout the season of Lent, our Episcopal church in Statesville offers Evening Prayer on weekdays. The service is a rather simple one: scripture, ordered prayer–for forgiveness, for each other, for safety and quietude. It takes about twenty minutes to go through.

I try to volunteer to lead prayer a few times–the offering relies upon lay folks in the church to lead the service. Most times, only a handful of people show up. There have been a couple of instances in which I said Evening Prayer by myself.

My first assigned reading date was this past Monday. It had been a full and hectic day at the office, the kind where unexpected interruptions derail the plans you’d made. Still, I was able to duck out a little bit early to make it up the road–only to drive straight into a heavy rainstorm, which slowed traffic down. I pulled into the parking lot a minute shy of the appointed start time.

At that moment, I didn’t expect anyone to be there–but there was. One of my fellow choir-mates, a woman named Harriette, who I am sure was just about to put the car in reverse and get the heck out of there when I showed up.

So we both dashed inside the sanctuary, rain pounding on the roof above us. She was patient as I quickly found the scripture readings, marking places in the big Bible on the podium, trying to gear down my mind from the rushed commute. I excused myself into the hall to have a sip of water and ring the church bell. Outside, cars lined up at the traffic light, their wipers swooshing back and forth. I wondered if they could hear the tolling.

Back in the sanctuary, I took a deep breath and began: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Harriette and I stood in the cavernous room, the two of us calling and responding to one another, her voice a bit quieter than mine, thinner with a little more age than I have. I was nervous–for some reason, I often worry I’m going to skip something, or get it out of order–but this time I realized I’d done this enough to where I knew how to manage.

There’s a point in the order of Evening Prayer in which the leader reads a collect that notes where “two or three” are gathered, the Lord will be there with them. I grinned as I thought of how Harriette and I just made the cut.

It was over not long after that part. Let us bless the Lord, I read. “Thanks be to God,” she responded.

And that was it. We both stood, and chatted a bit. She’s heading off to Patagonia. I was headed home. She went out to her car first–the rain had ended, and I walked around the building, making sure the doors were secured, turning off the lights. I stood for a moment there by the organ, where the switches were, looking up at the altar candle, the one that remains lit through day and night. It cast an upward glow toward the stained glass window.

I thought back to that big, empty room, about how our voices echoed inside as the rain drummed along, as the cars splashed down Center Street, their drivers straining against the wash. Was God, indeed, there with us?

I walked back across the parking lot to my car, headed to my last obligation for the day–dinner downtown to talk strategy with a couple of friends. Then home just in time to kiss the kids goodnight. Thomas asked where I’d been all day, and my heart twisted up.

I am convinced that saying Evening Prayer was the one thing I did that day that really mattered. It was my oasis, my calm in a stormy sea of churning life, a time to ask for more grace, for patience, for help. For me. For others.

And a chance to share that vulnerability that comes, inherently, with praying with others. In this case, with one other. Just Harriette and me. Harriette, who in her mind might have been thinking about the journey ahead, of traveling on planes, or backpacking, or any number of things. And my mind filled with schedules and email and busy little tokens of thought. And both of us, just for a little while, shrugging off the burdens of the present to stand and kneel together under that little arc of prayer.

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