Wrapped Up in a Bulletin

They visited.

They worshiped.

They prayed.

They sang.

They saved the bulletin.

Who are they? They are a UK couple who took a once in a lifetime cruise to the United States. Docked in D.C., they ventured into Alexandria and came to church.  Our church, Emmanuel.

Cleaning out her parents’ South Hampton, England home, their granddaughter, Jo Ashley, found a 67-year-old bulletin in a dusty document box. Thoughtfully Jo did not discard it but saved it and air-mailed it to us.

Something spoke to her grandparents that Sunday morning, so much so, that they saved this single piece of paper. Saved it, for more than six decades. 

It being an Emmanuel Church worship bulletin dated Sunday, September 19, 1954.

Why they saved it, we don’t know. Maybe because of the prayers, the music, or the sermon. Maybe the welcome they received at coffee hour. Maybe the hand lettered and illustrated bulletin cover, the order of service, or an announcement that caught their eye. 

Open the bulletin and you travel back in time. The Rev. J. Jacquelin Ambler was Rector. Two seminarians assisted as lay readers. The Morning Prayer liturgy was celebrated according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The Venite and the Jubilate were chanted. Three hymns were sung from the 1940 Hymnal.  The parish had THREE choirs and FIVE choir practices that week! 217 parishioners knelt in the pews.

The bulletin’s announcements have a familiar ring!  “CANVASSERS ARE NEEDED for this year’s Every Member Canvass. Both men and women are urged to take advantage of this opportunity for service to your church. Please, see Mr. Bauknight or Mr.Bird immediately after the service.” (Emphasis added.😊)

Some things don’t change! Emmanuel has the same phone number it did in 1954. The parish had 213 families and 449 communicants. In 2021, Emmanuel is home to 231 families with 452 folks on our Constant Contact email list.  In 1954, the clergy baptized 22 babies. In 2021, 9 babies and one adult were baptized, and 12 new Episcopalians were welcomed into this household of God. 

Standing on the shoulders of these 1954 saints, Emmanuel has evolved in myriad ways! From the 1954 Annual Report:

“Our vestry is composed of 15 men…”

Boys who are reverent, dependable, and desire to serve as a crucifer or acolyte…”

“The Altar Guild numbers 18 women who keep the Altar and Chancel ready…”

“The Parish Property Committee, as it relates to women’s work, especially the kitchen…”

Almost seven decades later (alleluia!) all gender barriers to ministry in the Episcopal Church, lay and ordained, like London Bridge, have fallen down. 

At the dawn of 2022, we pause to celebrate because in 1954 this British couple worshipped in Emmanuel’s pews. Because this couple packed that Sunday’s bulletin into their luggage, sailed with it home “across the pond,” and tucked it into their mementos. To be found all these years later by their granddaughter cleaning out the attic. Because of all of this we celebrate.

Something touched them that day. The same kind of somethings, I believe, that continue to touch us today. The same kind of somethings, that time and distance do not diminish. Echoed in the nearly 1800 year-old words of Second Isaiah. A homesick prophet who himself wrote these words far away from home, while exiled in Babylon.

Thus says the Lord,he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God,the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia, and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight,and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you;I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,”and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth–everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1-7

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

As we start this new year, imagine someone from far away, someone from the far flung corners of the globe, taking home a 2022 Emmanuel bulletin. Maybe because the music moved them, the sermon inspired them, the prayers spoke to them, or a friendly parishioner spoke to them after church. Maybe it will be a Christmas, a funeral, or a baptism bulletin that they decide to save.  Some cherished memory worth keeping. We may never know for what or why.  And that’s okay.

Each Sunday, as we commune with God, we commune with friends, as well as strangers, all around us.  We may not know where the strangers come from or where they return to. All the better to remember that no gesture offered in love, no act of kindness is too small to be taken away from our worship.

All wrapped up in the bulletin!

Pax vobiscum,


NOTE: I would like to dedicate this homily to Karen O’Hern, Emmanuel’s administrative assistant who each week puts together our Sunday bulletins so beautifully.

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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