Me & the President
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
My first position as a priest was at historic Christ Church Episcopal in Alexandria, Virginia. Our nation's first president, George Washington, served on the vestry of this church and his family had their own box pew that they would sit in during worship. And so, over the years it became customary for every president, at some time during their tenure, to attend worship at Christ Church and to sit in George Washington's family pew.
And while I knew that this was a possibility at some point during my tenure at Christ Church, I certainly did not expect to arrive at church the first Sunday morning after my ordination to the priesthood only to discover that I would be celebrating my first Sunday mass with President George W. Bush in attendance.
And that experience broke some myths in my own heart, impacting me to this day. So, this week I'd like to try to break the myth about what it means to be a Christian when there are the people in the church with whom you deeply disagree.
To be clear, I was not the rector of this church, I was simply a lowly assistant, and the rector easily could have taken the prerogative and celebrated mass himself for that early Sunday morning worship service. But he kindly gave me the opportunity and so I went to my office and worked on ensuring I could wrap my mouth around the Elizabethan language we used at that early service.
One of the things that's interesting as a priest is that people come to the communion rail very differently. Some people kneel and keep their head down with their hands outstretched, focused on the reverent experience with God they’re having. Other people stand up the whole time and look right at you with a smile on their face, full of gratitude and joy.
President Bush knelt at the rail, but he was also someone who looked right at you when you were giving him communion. I pressed to the bread into his hands and said those old traditional words, “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which is given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” He said, “Amen,” and consumed the bread.
And in that moment, like I said, something broke open inside of me.
I knew that I disagreed strongly with several of the policies and practices of his administration. I had concerns that were deep and based upon fundamental moral convictions I have is a Christian that there were things happening in the Bush administration that were fundamentally unjust, which were threatening the very peace of our world.
But in that moment, at the altar rail, I was reminded that someday, many, many decades ago,
an Episcopal priest poured water on the little baby George W. Bush. I was reminded that no matter our differences, no matter how faithful or how inadequate either of us are, in that moment George was simply a baptized Christian, coming to receive the sacrament that Christ had ordained for the church for all generations. He needed the grace of that sacrament… and I did too.
I keep a picture on my wall in my office of that day, one that he signed after he and his wife met my wife, and we exchanged pleasantries outside the church. I keep it there to remind myself that there will always be people in the church, people in the world, with whom I disagree… but that my baptismal calling is to treat every person I meet with faithfulness, because every person bears the image of God on their soul. In particular, even when I strongly disagree with another Christian, I am called to remember that they remain my sibling in Christ by virtue of baptism, not by virtue of matching up to my standards… Or me matching up to their standards.
Because in the end, it is God's love and grace that will heal us all, that will draw us altogether in the divine embrace. Don't get me wrong, you know I still have no problem speaking up when I disagree… But I do need constantly to be reminded of the importance of that love, constantly reminded of the need the practice humility, to be curious instead of condemnatory.
I don't always do a good job, but I'm trying. I'm glad President Bush, simply by being in that church with me so long ago, reminded me that day to try a little harder.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.