|Bishop Jim Jelinek|
One evening last winter my exuberant then-10-month-old puppy bolted into the dark after some animal, just as I was turning from closing a storm door and off balance. I flew 10 to 12 feet horizontally—the flight was good, the landing not so—and landed on my right thigh, breaking the femur. Surgery, rehab, and a lift in the shoe help, but I now limp, and that imbalance triggers the serious arthritis in my other foot. Not so bad, really, but it is a new limitation for me, and I usually do not like when I have to accept and get used to them, and I hate to baby myself (some might say, “take extra care”). But that is what I am learning to do yet again.
In coming to St. Paul’s K Street everything seemed very doable, as I contemplated the ministry and liturgical requirements. Well, genuflecting is difficult. If my body doesn’t scream at me on one side or the other, it just doesn’t want to push up off the floor. With strong people on either side, or holding onto the altar, I do pretty well, without a clumsy wobble or stumble. But one of the other clergy here has his limitations, and when we are next to each other, there is no point in trying to lean on the other, because it is anyone’s guess who will land on the floor first. So, when we are together, or when either of us is alone, we have decided to do a profound bow, perfectly acceptable as a reverence, but it is not St. Paul’s way. Yet this is the way it is.
I share this story about myself because for years I have watched people with limitations make every effort to climb whatever stairs there are to get to the altar rail, and then make every effort to kneel to receive the Holy Eucharist. I have watched people wincing, seen tears coursing down cheeks, have even heard groans. I have seen a shaky hand outstretched for the bread while the other was white-knuckled and grasping the rail for dear life. I have asked myself: "Who could have taught this person that God needs or wants them to suffer in order to receive the gift of God’s presence and love?"
Years ago I started mentioning this to people after a Eucharist when I noticed the suffering. I urged them to stand at the rail, or at the foot of the stairs or remain seated in their pew to receive. Some of them took the suggestions with relief and communion became a different experience for them. Without their bodies screaming at them, they were really present to receive the grace God was trying to give them. Others told me that when the pain of kneeling became too bad in the future, they would not come to church anymore because they would be too embarrassed to “receive special treatment” (communion in the pew). Some reacted with anger because they thought these heroic efforts gave them some merit in God’s eyes, and I was taking that away from them.
With my newly experienced limitations, I have gone through all those same feelings and attitudes. Yet once again, so I am really writing this for myself with the hope that it may be helpful to others, who are, like me, part of what I like to call “the gimp and hardware club.”
Bishop Jim Jelinek is the interim rector at St. Paul's, K Street.