In Search of St. Barnabas
by Margo Rapp
On the afternoon of Saturday June 13th, I let myself into the side door of the church building. Would I remember the code to unlock the door? Unsure, I tried the first number that came to mind. It worked! I was on a quick mission. I had permission to be in the building. I was the only person there and I was wearing my mask, conscientious of everything I might touch. I just had to run downstairs to grab my Godly Play story about St. Barnabas to tell over Zoom the next morning. In and out.
The moment I stepped in the door, I paused. I couldn’t help it. It had been so long since I had set foot into the building. I now realized this wasn’t going to be a quick in and out. I looked left, into the Great Hall, and there I saw a Lent Madness poster hanging on the wall. It was the middle of June! I walked into the Great Hall and looked around. I surveyed the pictures of the clergy on the side wall and was drawn to Pastor Nancy’s smiling photo. How will we get to say goodbye to her and give all of our well wishes? What will our church look like as we navigate a re-opening and a search for a new rector? I noticed the coffee station and remembered a Great Hall filled with friendly and much-loved parishioners in bustling chatter on a typical Sunday morning Coffee Hour. As I walked to the back of the room, I found the Children’s Corner. Neatly organized and missing its tiny friends.
I walked through the hall to the chapel, the afternoon sunlight shining through the beautiful stained glass. I remembered teaching Godly Play to our older students (GPX) in this room last summer, and I thought about how much this chapel means to so many people. I headed to the Narthex and into the Sanctuary. I slowly walked up to the altar and stopped. I bowed my head and as I did I noticed the wooden steps, worn from years of people walking up and down. I bent down and touched the worn wood. I thought of my own family kneeling together for Communion. I glanced up and saw the wooden sign that shows the hymn numbers on the wall beside the pulpit. No hymn numbers, but it still held the word “Lent” at the top. I sat in my family’s typical Sunday pew.
As I finally made my way downstairs, I thought of all of the little footsteps and of leading little ones up and down for Sunday School and Art Camp. As I entered the Undercroft, there was still evidence of our Twelfth Night Pasta Supper and gold stars hanging from the ceiling. In the Godly Play room, I looked at each name tag hanging, so many tiny friends who I have been greeting each week in virtual Godly Play. On the counter was our attendance sheet from March 8th, our last Sunday in church. It was beginning to feel a little bit like my college trip to the archaeological site in Pompei, Italy. A slice of daily life. History preserved for the ages.
On the afternoon of Saturday, June 13th I “went to church.” I did many of the things I would have done on a “normal” Sunday. As I went through the building, I thought of and prayed for each one of you.
What I didn’t do was find my St. Barnabas Godly Play story. Much like the people in the building, St. Barnabas was nowhere to be found. It must have gotten misplaced in the Sunday School room remodel last summer. I was able to pull a few things together and later reprint the story saved online when I got home. However, what I did find was profound.
Kathy Caldwell recently shared a poem that she used to recite in the Sunday School class she taught when her kids were little.
If I were the church,
My church bells would ring.
‘Come in everyone’
I’d happily sing.
If I were the church.
I’d stretch my doors wide,
I’d invite everyone to come inside.
If I were the church…
But I am, you see.
The church is the people,
It’s you and it's me.
St. Barnabas is more than the church building I walked around that afternoon. It’s you and it’s me. I think of a little board book that I read to my children, Where is God? It ends with “God is wherever we look.”
Our building may be closed but our church certainly isn’t. There are still weekly bread runs. I’ve heard there is still a men’s prayer group that meets from their cars to keep distance. We have virtual Godly Play and Art Camp. Families are holding hands in prayer. Pew pals are holding book club. Children and adults are performing random acts of kindness. People are doing holy things all around us. God is wherever we look. St. Barnabas is in action wherever we look.
Our St. Barnabas Godly Play story is one that I wrote a few years ago in celebration of St. Barnabas Day. As part of the story, I show “Flat Joe” when I talk about how he was originally named Joseph. (For those who are newish, “Flat Joe” is a coloring sheet to be used much like the children’s book Flat Stanley.) Joseph became Barnabas when he gave everything he had to the apostles and he is believed to be one of the founders of the early Christian church. What if this year we pull out Flat Joe not when we are on vacation, but in times when “we are the church.”
As we navigate potential reopening and changes in our leadership, things will look different. But our church remains the same. It is you and it is me. Please consider coloring a Flat Joe, and take a picture of you or your family with Joe when you are doing the work of our church. Post it on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages with the hashtag #WeAreStB or tag St. Barnabas, or email it to Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can see it and share it. Our church is not closed. St. Barnabas is wherever we look.
The church is the people, it’s you and it’s me. #WeAreStB.
Click to download your own Flat Joe to color!