by: Jane Bishop Halteman
November 2, 2015
Fra Angelico's The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24), tempera on wood, National Gallery, London.
I didn’t grow up celebrating All Saints Day, but, as someone who suffered grief and loss early in life, observing this day on November 1 became important to me in the middle 90s at my former church in the western suburbs of Chicago. All Saints emphasis Sunday seemed a good day to remember those who had gone on before in the past, as well as to give thanks for those still among us who have mentored our own faith.
When I look back on my family of origin and church family who influenced me as a very young child, I remember grandmother Kate, who was a teacher and eagerly helped me and my younger brother memorize the 23rd Psalm before we turned six. I recall Sunday School teachers and Bible school teachers who shared stories with us each class period, and church librarians who promoted good books.
As a would-be writer back in the day, I was already fascinated as a youngster by Aunt Beth, who wrote for Words of Cheer, as well as authors like Katie Funk Wiebe, whose work appeared in a variety of Mennonite publications which arrived at our house on a regular basis, and artists like Jan Gleysteen, whose work was featured regularly in Christian Living magazine.
During my years as a young mother, I was attracted to the faith of slightly older women at church, the good-hearted wisdom of congregational saints who regularly reminded us that we could trust God’s work in our midst, the contemplative spirituality of new pastors who arrived on the scene as our children began leaving for college.
Here at Kern Road, I was moved several weeks ago to witness fellow church members signing my grandson’s new Bible, which he and other second graders received from the congregation during worship that day. To see the children perusing their Bibles before they left the front of the sanctuary was heart-warming, and I watched several eagerly reading their messages from family and friends…this is, indeed, a good way to pass on the faith.
Some of my favorite liturgical words of thanksgiving and blessing grow out of All Saints’ observances: “We thank you for faithful people who have followed Jesus in every age. May we be strengthened by their witness and supported by their unseen presence from the balcony of heaven, that we may run with perseverance the race that lies before us, and, by faith, follow in the footsteps of so great a cloud of witnesses.”
I love the thought of letting All Saints liturgies play themselves out as we together hear spoken words like these: “Let’s join our voices with angels and archangels, with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all the faithful of every time and place, who forever sing to the glory of your name, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.’”
Along with author Jan Richardson, I ask you…what stirs your memories in this season? Who are the folks, living or dead, who linger close in these days? How do your memories help inspire your path ahead? How are you passing on the faith?