When I was a new priest I wrote thank you notes on Monday mornings. At some point they became thank you emails. When I became a college chaplain, they became thank you prayers, and now I am usually in meetings on Monday mornings. I still pray my thank you’s and sometimes I send an email, but I remember how those Monday cards shifted my nervous mind from all of the new tasks a new priest cannot imagine completing well enough, to love for the people with whom we had somehow muddled through the week before. Actually, our muddling was usually excellent liturgy, fellowship, and teaching. Just right.
A few weeks ago I got a beautiful thank you note. It was perfect. Every part of it was beautiful: the card, the envelope, the hand-writing, and the words. It was a thank you for a thing in which I did my part, which was to lead prayer, present to the overwhelming emotion in the room. That’s a part of my job, and like the best parts of my job, success is not wholly something I can control. We are all in it together.
I grew up in church. I vaguely remember going to immigrant Indian churches in Dallas in the 1970’s as a small child, Jacobite and Mar Thoma liturgies. I don’t think we went that often. The church communities were new. Indians had literally just been permitted to immigrate a few years before. I do remember from age 10 or so being a part of a small Church of South India (CSI) congregation forming in Dallas. I suspect it appealed to my liberal-minded father’s latent Protestantism, from his mother’s CSI heritage, and the strong reformed tradition in the Mar Thoma Church, in which he was raised, and I had been baptized.
We used the CSI prayerbook and said Matins. The choir was an uncle on an electric organ or piano and the aunties and uncles who wanted to sing. Our dads put the liturgy together. We didn’t have a priest. One of the uncles went to Perkins Seminary at SMU part-time and became the priest eventually, but that was later. The bishop from India came for confirmations. The sermons were in Malayalam and occasionally in very simple English. I don’t remember any of them. I had every role you could have as a kid in church, because my father believed in gender equality. It was awkward. I didn’t want to do it, but I was never asked. Sometimes we had to sit in our car in the parking lot before church because we were the first ones there. Then they gave my dad the key.I am about to hit my 20th ordination anniversary in the Episcopal Church, and I am so thankful. Thankful to have grown up in a community of immigrants. I know several of our parents tried to go to mainline churches in Dallas. That didn’t work out. I am thankful to have witnessed new Americans build the institutions they needed. I am thankful to not have encountered the drama of the anxious mainline until I was an adult. I am thankful to know the breadth and beauty of the Anglican tradition and ecumenism in my bones and what it means to be a minority Christian and a Christian minority. I am thankful for the leaflets made on someone’s home computer and copied at Kinko’s. Thankful that I can remember the feel of my mother’s sari on my face when I am reading along in a prayerbook or singing a familiar hymn. Thankful to know what it feels like to sit in a room filled with people who long for home and cannot imagine the future, quiet, heads bowed pouring out their worries to God.
In my memory people like us who come from other countries are set apart because the world we live in and the world we come from will not have us. This week I watched the President say that about us, about any of us that will try to make this nation hold true to its promise. As a child, I could not imagine that people like me could be elected officials in this country. I am so glad that so many could and today are calling us to our best selves. For some reason I could imagine we could lead in the church. Maybe because I grew up in churches where only people like me led.
A few weeks ago I got a thank you note that so beautifully said thank you to me for leading people in prayer. I was so thankful. I cried. So, write your thank you notes. Work to do things that require divine intervention to actually accomplish. Love your neighbor, the immigrant, the outsider, and if you are an immigrant, thank you.