During Seminary, another student and I, interned at a tiny, historic, Methodist church in New Jersey. She was Methodist, I was not; but we were both welcomed into the fold in equal measure.
The congregation was small and aged and the thing they appreciated most about the few sermons I gave was how well they could hear my voice and how clearly I enunciated. The thing I appreciated most about preaching there was how the cleric’s robe covered me from head to toe, obscuring my feminine figure, rearranging me into a blank slate of black polyester. Only my flat, tan shoes and the bottom of my dress pants showed and only then when I stepped out away from the pulpit, which was not often.
My fellow intern, a heavyset single girl, shorter than me and rounder, also wore the robe while speaking. On other Sundays, though, she dressed to the nines in strappy dresses with tight waists and full skirts like the ones housewives are pictured wearing in magazine ads from the 1950's. She completed the look by pairing the dresses with impossibly high heeled shoes, the height and skinniness of which, caused her to teeter and totter precariously.
She didn’t seem at home in those dresses and matching shoes and I wondered why she wore them. But I also probably didn’t seem at home in my drab business-casual attire that I’d purchased specially for the internship and possible future interviews. Neither of us, I guess, were entirely at home in ourselves or our pastoral positions, which I suppose is the plight of many an intern.
The small church was traditionally built, with old wooden pews and a long center aisle that led to a kneeling rail and altar. Each service began with a processional from the narthex, down the center aisle, to the altar where candles were lit while the organist played.
One of my most distinct memories of that church is of watching my fellow intern make her wobbly way down the carpeted center aisle with a plate of communion bread in hand. The plate was wide, flat and loaded with bits of bread and she was so precariously perched in her heels that I felt for sure she was going to wipe out at any moment, scattering the body of Christ across the dense carpet. I held my breath as she mounted the altar’s two steps and exhaled when she finally set the plate down.
Having grown up Baptist and turned Anabaptist, the rituals of the Methodist church were foreign to me and struck me as overly formal. I longed for something more personal, less prescribed. I imagined with equal measures of horror and delight, what it would be like if she simply dropped the whole plate. Some part of me longed for the broken body to spill, even just once; for us all to have to deal with the sudden beauty, the surprise of Christ spread among us in such an earthy, unscripted way.
My colleague never dropped the host, but crumbs did often fall as we handed the bread to the congregants kneeling along the rail. No matter how rigidly we try to contain him, Christ is always breaking through. Mercy and grace scatter everywhere like crumbs, and who we are and who God is, is always being revealed. Christ is always spreading out in our midst, disrupting our scripted ways, like the beige shoes and dress pants of a young woman sticking out beneath her robe, like a young woman in a flared out dress and heels making her wobbly way up the aisle, truth that cannot be hidden or disguised.