Andrea O’Connell Testimony, November 5, 2017

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Dedham, MA

A few weeks ago, when Melanie asked me to speak today, my first thought was, “Didn’t I just do that?” Well, I have stood here before… but apparently that was fifteen years ago! So, in case some of you have forgotten parts of what I said back then, let me start by refreshing your memory. For me, music has always been the lens through which every aspect of life is focused. In 1985 I was looking for a parish because I was hurting. I came to St. Paul’s because I’d heard the music was good! My family is both deeply musical and deeply rooted in religious tradition.

While I have always attended the Episcopal Church, I come from a long line of Lutherans and I live each day surrounded by artifacts of faith, such as a Danish Psalter from the 1860s and a vast collection of sacred sheet music and hymnals… and my choir cross from fourth grade. These things connect me in a very powerful way with past generations – known, and unknown. They are silent witnesses to those who, in the words we just sang (Hymn 287), “now from their labours rest,” and who “the Lord by faith before the world confessed.” When I spoke back in 2002, I focused largely on individuals and individual experiences. In my earliest years at St. Paul’s, many of us in the choir had undergone, or were soon to undergo, life-changing events.

Not all of them were sad. Joe and I did marry here in 1991, with the entire choir in attendance. As I thought about what to say today, I realized how much my church family has grown and found myself thinking about communal events and shared experience. In 2002 we were a year out from 9/11. For all the concerns about flight safety and threat levels, the country had come together and was in solidarity with the rest of the Western World, at least, still safely in our position as leader of that world, bolstered by perceived moral and military might. We knew then that nothing ever would be the same… but the extent to which it would not be the same we could not guess have guessed.

I’ve always felt I could rely on The Episcopal Church, and on my own parish, to comfort and restore me in times of personal crisis. I turn to these now even more diligently for guidance, comfort and strength in a world that is in many ways unrecognizable. Whatever our personal trials, our church family is facing these changes together, which is comforting in and of itself. We are asking, What would Jesus Do? In the face of meanness and mean-spiritedness, of social media perverted beyond recognition, we come here to see what graciousness and generosity of spirit look like. In the face of pervasive racism, we take heart to be reminded that “All are welcome at God’s table.”

Feeling guilty about having been spared the natural disasters experienced by so many others, and burdened by our own sense of helplessness, we are offered safe channels to support those afflicted, and are given the opportunity to reach out to those in need right here in Dedham. Fearful of mass shootings and nuclear threats, we are encouraged to Trust in the Lord, as countless others have through millennia. Saddened by the despoiling of God’s Creation, we are reminded to do our part to preserve and reclaim it - and to “Deck our Souls with Gladness” in the face of its beauty. Untrusting of all things temporal, we come to St. Paul’s to be reminded of Things Eternal. In short, we are taught, and shown, that, whatever comes, we are to follow Jesus’ lifelong pattern, to love Him, and to love our neighbors, and to Trust until we meet TRUTH face to face. Amen

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