One of the goals of my sabbatical was to visit the church in Alaska that raised me up to go to seminary. Last Friday I flew to Petersburg, Alaska, and yesterday I celebrated the Eucharist and preached at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Petersburg, my home church.
I attended St. Andrew’s with my family from 1984 to 1992, when we left for seminary. Coming back here after 27 years is like a pilgrimage to me, a return to holy ground.
In my sermon, I told how one Sunday years ago in that very place, after receiving Communion, I sensed the presence of Jesus next to me, as real as any other person in the room. He put his hand on my arm and said, “Come with me.”
It was the moment of conversion for me, when Jesus became real for me – not just a historical figure or a person in a book, but a real, living presence. It was emotional for me to be in the same place where I had that experience, and it was touching to pray the Eucharistic Prayer at the same altar where my predecessors prayed.
There were 10 people at the service – it’s a very small church. But most of them were people I knew from the time when Katy and I attended there. In my sermon I named many of the old-time members who have passed on, and everyone nodded knowingly. I felt a sense of connection to that church that was very gratifying.
Afterward, we had a light lunch around a table and aI felt as though aI’d never left. When we were cleaning up, a young woman stopped by the church to visit briefly. She’d been in the Sunday School class I taught 30 some years ago! It was wonderful to see her.
Visiting St. Andrew’s made me feel that I’d come full circle, returning to the place that had nurtured me as a newly reborn believer. I remembered the early times in our marriage, my years as a young father, raising our two boys in the church, and the tremendous spiritual growth I experienced there. My pilgrimage was well worth it.