The Power of Material Grace

This is a story from the Rev. Dr. Robert A. Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University.

The Power of Material Grace

Some years ago I officiated at a wedding. It was beautiful autumn day as so many have been this year. The service was wonderful. The organist played a version of “Love Divine” with bells that rounded off the service to perfection. I was proud to be here. Later, in the ready room, a woman who had attended the service asked about my family.

We talked, and I discovered that she was from the North Country, and had been raised with some difficulty by a single mother.

“Near Alexandria Bay?”

“In Alexandria Bay.”

“Did you know Rev. Pennock, who was there in retirement?” (who is Jan’s grandfather)?

All of sudden her face became red and her eyes filled. I wondered what I had said to upset her. This is the “joy” of the ministry – you enter a room and everyone is uncomfortable! You make small talk and women cry!

“No”, she said, “you don’t understand…When I was a young woman, I barely could go to college. Every semester I received a check from the Alexandria Bay Church, money that was to pay for my voice lessons…This kept me going in college, not just the money, which was significant, but more so the thought, the fact that somebody believed in me, could see me with a future, outside of my struggling family and small town, and invested in me….”

What does that have to do with me?

“I learned a few years ago that your wife’s grandfather is the one who gave the money for those lessons! His gift formed my life!”

What are you doing today?

“I am the Director of Music for a church near Albany. The bride grew up in my youth choir. She invited me to the wedding. Music is my life.”

Over all those years, and so many miles, across such a great existential distance, look what happened: A moment of material grace. I was given an experience of God, emotion laded and heartfelt and real and good, and even in church or at least almost, as a consequence of a gift made long ago and far away. The hidden blessing of generosity is that giving opens the world to the possibility of experiences of God. Rev. Harold Pennock is long dead. His wife Anstress is long dead. Their time in the parsonage of a small town on the St Lawrence River is long gone. But one autumn day, many years later, after a wedding, in the late afternoon, his thoughtful kindness opened the world.

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