Our church ends every service by joining hands and singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
“Let There Be Peace on Earth” has three things going for it. First, it has great lyrics. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” That’s kind of what it’s all about, right? Second, it has a wickedly hard melody line that jumps around every which way. Any congregation that can sing that song–and our congregation can–can sing any song!
Third, the song is in triple meter. I confess that, at the beginning, I wasn’t thrilled with ending every service with a waltz. Really? A waltz? But then I met MR. Waltz. Leroy Waltz.
Leroy was the wise elder of Pilgrimage when I arrived. When I met Leroy, I sensed that a lot was riding on the encounter. Impress Leroy and I was in. Flub the meeting and I wasn’t. Simple as that.
I must have done okay with that first meeting…because the church called me. For the first few years I served as pastor, Leroy still came to church…faithfully! As a deacon, he took his duties seriously. He ushered, he greeted, he helped with missions. Leroy was a fine church member, one everyone looked up to.
Then, we didn’t see Leroy for a while. He called one day to ask that his name be removed from the church rolls. We’d taken “that Open and Affirming thing” too far for him.
Six or eight months later, I got another phone call from Leroy. “Kim,” he said, “There’s just not another Pilgrimage out there. I’d like to come back, if I may.” Everyone welcomed Leroy home with open arms.
When driving to church became too difficult for him, I began visiting Leroy at his small apartment. The first few visits were very hard. The usually congenial octagenarian was almost rude when I’d visit. I began to wonder if I had done something wrong.
On a later visit, though, when he opened the door to let me in, I knew the old Leroy was back. He welcomed me gracously. In our conversation that day, he told me he’d been praying. In his praying, he said, God had given him peace about not being able to go to church any more. I realized then that before he’d found his peace, every one of my visits had only reminded him of all he couldn’t do any more. And not serving his church? That had been devastating for Leroy. He’d had to grieve that loss.
Once his grieving was done? We had the best visits! Leroy told me once, “There are some things I just don’t bring up with you.” In light of our many theological differences, I had to agree in the wisdom of that decision.
But here’s what we did do…We talked about the Bible. We talked about the Holy Land. We discovered a mutual love for the Gospel of Luke. We prayed together. And we shared communion together. Leroy loved communion; it was a key element of his faith. In those precious vists, Leroy taught me just how deeply two people of faith can connect with each other, despite their different theological leanings.
At the end of his life, Leroy’s mind started slipping. The last couple of visits, I knew he didn’t recognize me. That part was hard…but the hardest thing of all was the last visit. I brought communion as I always did…but that time, when I handed him the tiny bit of bread and the small cup of juice, he looked at me questioningly, as if to ask, “What do I do with this?”
When he didn’t know communion any more–that ritual of the church that had meant so much to him–I knew Leroy was gone. I quickly finished the visit, hurried out to my car, and sobbed out my sadness. Leroy died within the week.
Leroy’s been gone for several years. It saddens me now to look around the congregation and see only a few people who knew our saint of the church….
…but about a year ago, I found a way to stay connected to Leroy, a way to remember hs faith, his love for God, his love for his church, and even for his liberal-leaning woman pastor. Here’s what I do. Every Sunday as we gather around the communion table and clasp hands to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” I sway. Yes–right there in church–I waltz. And in my waltzing, there at the table, I remember Mr. Waltz and everything that is good about faith and church and integrity and friendship. And I whisper a silent “thank you” to my old friend.
Peace for your journey…