All that glitters — by Florence Niven

It was a December morning, back when groups still gathered. Before social distancing was a thing. I lay on my yoga mat in the little country church, contemplating the small bedazzled stiletto hanging above the baby Jesus.

Huh.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what guided the Magi in the well-loved story, but there it was, dangling incongruously above the rustic crèche. Little wooden figures, representing all the key players, were positioned around the baby. And twinkling above the manger, a three-inch replica of a high-heeled pump; resplendent in gold glitter.

It’s interesting what you can find in church basements. Small items, like Christmas decorations that don’t quite fit a specific theme. Scraps of wallpaper, pinecones, and pipe cleaners collected and ready for Sunday School. Casserole dishes long forgotten by the original owners. Large items also: mismatched couches, floor lamps that lean ever so slightly to one side, end tables with one leg shorter than the other three.

Church basements are the repository for all sorts of interesting things. Like the furniture, untouched for years, with the distinctive 80’s vibe. From the one room in someone’s home that, despite the label ‘living room’, rarely witnessed any actual living. Pieces simply too good to throw out. The church basement seems, to many, the perfect retirement destination for such pieces.

We are blessed to receive these items of course, church budgets being what they are. Most are welcomed and put to good use. A little paint here, a slipcover there. Church people are renowned for refreshing, reupholstering, and rewiring. Recognizing possibilities. It’s what we do. We can find the perfect spot for just about everything. Including apparently, a bedazzled stiletto.

For everything else, there’s the Property Committee’s annual yard sale. For $5 in the early 90’s, I bought an actual Kingston traffic light, circa 1972. It was just sitting in the church basement, waiting for me. You would not be the first person to wonder why I would want such a thing. But at the time, I knew a certain little boy, waiting for me at home, would be overjoyed with my purchase.  

Perhaps that’s one of the greatest gifts we offer to one another – the ability to see value – not only in the things, but also in the people who enter our sacred space. When we open our doors, we’re not saying “only the bright and sparkly are welcome.” We welcome all. And for those unable to step across the threshold, we reach out — meeting them, where they are in that moment.

At our best, we grieve with those carrying the anxiety of a recent diagnosis, or coping with loss. We rejoice in the news of recovery and reconciliation. Celebrate new babies and children and fresh perspectives. Open the door to the homesick, and heartsick and lonely.

This is where all who are burdened and heavy laden are offered rest. Where we have the opportunity to lay down our mantles of pretence and simply be. Trusting that those around us have the grace to accept us as we are. This is where love is. Where we recognize love is love.

Temporarily unable to gather in community because of this new normal, we seek familiar faces through technology. The growing number of people connecting through virtual Sunday morning services reminds us that the church is more than bricks and mortar. The church is its people.

We know there is much work ahead. Eventually we’ll have to face the aftermath of this pandemic, the terrible human cost, the economic repercussions. But for now, we stay home. With empty calendars, our lives move at a slower pace. We take walks in the middle of the afternoon to break up the monotony of the four walls. From a distance we say hello to strangers who pass by, and are no longer surprised when they return our greeting with a ready smile. We are kinder because of this crisis. We know we’re in this together.

No longer blinded by all that glitters, we are able to see clearly – the baby, lying in the manger.