By Rick Hamlin
Happy Pentecost: Birthday of the Church
Pentecost is the birthday of the church, and this Sunday is Pentecost, so celebrate!
Prayers of joy and thanksgiving for all churches, yours and mine, for big ones and little ones, for old ones and new ones, for ones that have rock bands and ones that celebrate with Gregorian chant.
Let me introduce you to two of my church friends: Edgar, 94, and Yang, 24. (The dude in choir robes is me.) Edgar came to St. Michael’s first in the early ’50s, and I regret to tell you that he was encouraged to go join the black congregation that worshipped a couple of blocks away. Yes, these things happened in New York, too.
But he returned again in the ’60s and has been a pillar in our community ever since, a man of prayer. For my kids when they were growing up, he was a surrogate grandfather, teaching them just the right way to shake a gentleman’s hand.
You really want to sit next to Edgar on a Sunday morning because he knows all the hymns by heart. As my son Timothy says, “You see him look down at the words just once, to see what hymn it is, but then he never looks again. He knows all the verses.” He often serves as a greeter on Sundays, welcoming familiar faces and unfamiliar ones. In the church, hospitality is how we show the face of Jesus.
Yang graduated from college a couple of years ago, moved to an apartment in the neighborhood, and boy, are we lucky that he dropped into our church. He’s worked in the soup kitchen, chaperoned the teens, organized trips to Staten Island to help the recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy.
Next weekend Yang will be confirmed in the church, which is really a way of him saying publicly, “I believe,” and us saying, “Hey, man, we believe in you.” He recently left a job in management consulting to work for a nonprofit doing more Sandy relief. I can’t wait to see what more good things he will accomplish.
Seventy years stretch between Edgar and Yang. One was born in Barbados, one was born in China, but here they are together, the young learning from the old, the old drawing energy and strength from the young. On the first Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit came down and the people spoke in dozens of different tongues. But the true miracle was that they could understand dozens of different tongues.
May we Christians, from different countries and traditions, hear and understand one another, whether we’re 94 or 24, or somewhere in between. That’s my prayer for you from 99th and Amsterdam in New York, where I’ll be celebrating Pentecost.