Eau de Jesus

Eau de Jesus September 3, 2006

I got an email the other day from a friend of a friend who is now a friend himself. (Isn’t it great how that works?)

It’s been exciting to keep up with Tim as he explores the possibility of a vocational call to ministry in the Episcopal priesthood, especially since we Baptists don’t use fancy words like “postulant” (but we do enjoy opportunities to throw them around so we might appear extra spiritual).

Tim’s recent email was kind of like a note passed in Junior High gushing about the cute guy in the third row of Algebra class (not that I ever sent such notes, of course).

Tim shared an essay he’d written describing his feelings attending worship at a church where he’s been assigned to help out. (Not sure what the official Episcopal term for this stage of the game is, but I am quite sure whatever it is it sounds very holy.)

I smiled when I read Tim’s enthusiastic, optimistic observations of church life in a small parish. He used words like: young, energetic, friendly, nurturing, love, community . . . even blessed.

And then, as I read, I felt startled for a moment. Startled because, you see, it has been about ten years (nine next month, to be exact) since I was ordained myself. It’s been awhile since the note-passing admiration and first flush promise of the pastorate filled my life and hopes for the future. But when I read Tim’s essay I felt startled to realize . . . I still feel it.

I recognized the feeling again when I read Tim’s report. For me, however, it’s not best described as a feeling. It’s more of a smell. (Could that be because I’m a Baptist and our associations are not as sophisticated as “feelings”? Hmmmm.)

It’s the association I automatically have with that special smell . . . of the Fellowship Hall. You know that smell? It’s kind of a floor wax/casserole/dusty furniture/glue and coffee smell, and every church I have ever been a part of smells a little like that.

I can’t explain it but the smell calls to mind just what Tim was describing, a few strong, sure feelings: security, warmth, love . . . it’s the smell of a place that will always enfold me no matter what . . . it’s Eau de Jesus.

I told Tim it was my wish as a parent that my children leave my house knowing that when they feel that feeling (or smell that smell) they will have those instant associations that church brings to mind for me and for Tim.

And I realized that this is also my wish as a pastor–that the churches where I serve would be empowered to give off that special Eau de Jesus, so that everyone who walks in the door for the first time–or for going on 60+ years in the case of some of our members–would get a feeling that steals over them like the old familiar smell of the Fellowship Hall, and that they would know they are enfolded in the love of God.

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  • Anonymous

    So my sister will laugh and make a comment under breath about me being a preacher when she reads this.. You see I think I have bored her to death enough times about how much I am in love with the smell and feel of a church.. The fellowship hall smell. The mix of wood polish, old carpet, and old ladies purfume… The feel of the wood with its scratches.. The pulpit that has worn spots from ministers hands.. The feel of the carpet on the bare feet just behind the pulpit. The worn softness of years of pastors pacing across it. This article made me smile.. Thanks for sharing. I am praying for everything happening with Calvary and you.. Blessings april

  • Anonymous

    Do you mind if I asked where you were ordained? Was it at your home church? Before or after seminary? And were you on staff where you were ordained? April Coates

  • Amy

    Hey April . . . I was ordained two years after I graduated from seminary at the church where I was a member: St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. I was not on the church staff at the time; I ran a shelter for homeless women in downtown New Orleans.

  • Will

    Yes… It true about what you said… We’ll I haven’t been in this church for about 372 day’s I been in Calvary. Yes the coffee and the cookie’s and all that good thing with fellowship hour. Even the memory of fellowship time was start in a small space and every one got to know every body as going pass each other and hopeing not the spiling there coffee on the floor. But now with the new space. Now there more memory to make in.

    I never gotten a call for the pastor hood. But remember the call to go to calvary is freash in my mind. I still have that fealing on Saturday afternoon… Tommrow I’ll be looking forward in what Amy’s sermon going to be… My first Communion, My first time I steping down from the choir to join Calvary, My first thursday night choir prctict.

    I very happy that your my pastor and the pass year you been doing a great job with Calvary. Plus I know what ever you have in store for Calvary will be gift you’ll bring to church. This will be my home for along time to come. I looking forward to my 7300 days in calvary and more.

    You’r Friend

  • Michael Westmoreland-White

    Interesting. I would have thought that a tradition, like the Episcopal, more used to “smells and bells” as incense and high church liturgy was once characterized by us Free Church types, would have more of the “eau de Jesus” experience.

    My current congregation, Jeff St. Baptist Community @ Liberty, is in a re-furbished and converted tool & die shop. So, many of the traditional “church” smells are missing. There are no pews, just folding chairs. The floors are vinyl.

    The sanctuary area is converted on Wed. nights to a dining room. And on weekdays the same area feeds breakfast to the homeless every day.

    But the building still has something indefinable. We say the church is the people, the community, and every year we pack up practically the whole church for an annual retreat. But, still, something intangible is there about the building. Because the community so often gathers here, we regularly meet God here.

  • Ann

    Amy – I know exactly what you’re talking about when you say the smell. When I took the position at HUMC on their church staff after not working for 4 years, I felt like I had come home when I walked into the sanctuary and smelled that smell. It is awesome.

    Ann M.

  • ppolarbear

    I was touring the national cathedral a couple of years ago. I’m a very low church Presbyterian, and it was all a little too much for me. Then I went in search of a bathroom. While I wandered in the basement, I smelled something oddly familiar and comforting—-church basement. Eau de church basement…..even the National Cathedral has it—a mix of dust and floor wax and industrial strength bathroom cleaner. Now I’d prefer a little lingering paste and stale coffee in there, too, but the rudiments were there!

    A lovely post.

  • "imagine the darkness in love with the light."

    yes a wonderful post. i understadn the church smell as the church energy when you first walk in the door. it matters not what church, but the fact that God is still there, and working in that church. it feels so right. and you know that you are home.

  • Onajourney2b

    hmm…well the smell of Calvary at times seems like a mixture of baby powder and the toilets backing up…but remember i was there when it first opened….

    its the sounds and that get me…the creaking wood as the wind blows…the echoes of the tinkling piano…the resonant voice of the pastors that pass through the pulpit…the laughter of children…the light as it shines through the glass …through the members at Calvary…

    but above all…it is when i sit completely alone in the sanctuary and feel the stillness…and i am at home no matter which one im sittin in…

    Love you.