They would gradually disappear – one by one. I would later hear of their sad passing or listen as they explained how they were moving elsewhere. These are the ones who were there with me for a long time. I am still there, but they have gone on to the next stage of their lives to either be with God, or are still living but are now far away from here.
The ‘there’ and ‘here’ I refer to is my church, and ‘they’ are those who served silently within it for many years, and I am grateful to have known them. They were the humble ones who went about their service or Mass attendance with a friendly hello. They were the simple ones who sometimes came to Mass with rough shoes or clothing, but still had a funny story to share despite any personal hardship. They were the real ‘salt of the earth’ ones – no airs or pretenses, just a steady commitment to their church, their suburb, their community of people, and last but not least to their God. They were never grand. They were not fancy people.
I remember Mr B in his motorised wheelchair who always sat near our choir. He was always very shy but I recall him roaring with laughter one morning as the numbers tumbled off the hymn board as I was placing them high upon a pillar hook. I remember Ms K quietly selling her religious items on the large table at the back of the church. Mr T who was the young seminarian in our choir. Mr D the offertory collector who always had time for a smile and jovial chat. Ms L who would not let her disfigurement define her and was one of the most faithful and wittiest people I knew. Then there was Ms J and her cute little dog in the front pews – now both with God. Mrs R at the side pews who liked to share a joke and always appreciated the music. And last but not least, Sr H who played our organ for many years and taught me all I know about the sacred gift of singing and music as a service to the church, as well as good enunciation!
They are all gone now, and I miss them. The church is not the same without them. The bluestone walls absorb their memory and so do I. Their history and presence was real, even if they are now out of sight.
New people around me do not know them or remember them, and so it is up to those like me, the ones who remain, to recall their stories and smiles. These local saints who served so faithfully can easily be forgotten, and unfortunately often are. But today I want to remember them and say thank you to them and to God, and for having had the chance to know them.
We have around our church (and you possibly have this at your church too) ancient-looking plaques on the pillars to commemorate those parishioners killed in world wars, and in thanks to those who made financial and other contributions to the building of our church which was founded over 150 years ago. Those plaques have stood the test of time and those names have been etched there for all to remember. This is important, and we do remember them. But we must also acknowledge in our hearts, prayers, and communities the countless people who have humbly and faithfully given of their time and talents to serve in our churches. These people also deserve to be appreciated and their names may not be on any church plaques to remember them by.
The many workers who built my church for example, are unknown. Every time I enter my church, especially when sitting within its beautiful emptiness and silence, I can imagine and feel their presence. These were the types of people who would not want to make a fuss. They may have slipped into history but their names are written in the Book of Life and on God’s heart. He now holds them in the palm of His hand.
We are all called to be servants and the church is the source of nourishment for this vocation. Church is not just a building – it is a sacred space where God’s children build their souls through the Eucharist as our focus, and where our communities are nurtured in Him. And ultimately, the Church is us, the people of God, as faithful, living vessels of His love.
Let us follow the example of those who are the image of Christ – the humble ones, the simple ones, the poor ones, and the ones who served for the sake of Him.
To those people, wherever you are now, I say thank you and thanks be to God for you.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)