Last evening my family stopped by Walgreen’s for soft drinks, chips and candy. Another family — dear friends — visited Dollar Tree to purchase a variety of inexpensive gifts. A few minutes later we met at Peaceful Haven, a local nursing home, one that provides services for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. The facility is dated, the rooms are shared and opportunities for excursions beyond its walls are limited. But the staff is professional and gracious and helpful, and the residents seem well cared for. We are there for bingo.
For a decade or so, our two families have meet there once each month to play bingo with the residents. I call the game — B51 is my favorite number because it reminds me of the Psalm — while others help the residents play, distribute prizes to the winners, prepare snacks and simply visit and talk. The residents do not know that I am a priest or that our families represent different factions of the Anglican Communion. They simply know that we are there and that we have been there faithfully for the last ten years and that, God willing, they can count on us to be there again next month. Bingo and coloring books and Cheetos and Diet Coke and conversation: that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like one Friday evening each month.
Early tomorrow morning, I will take bread and wine to the small chapel in our church, our prayer room. I will place them on the wooden table that serves as altar and, in the presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, I will begin the Great Thanksgiving. With unfailing use — a phrase overflowing with meaning — of the Words of Institution, I will consecrate that bread and wine that it may be the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. As promised, our Father will bless and sanctify, with His word and Holy Spirit, those gifts of God for the people of God.
A few minutes later, bearing these precious gifts, I will meet the rest of my family and several dear members of my church family at Garden Manor, an assisted living facility that provides service for those with good insurance or healthy savings accounts, those at the other end of the economic spectrum. The facilities are modern, activities are abundant, and the care is exceptional. We are there for Eucharist.
For several years our church has provided the service of Holy Eucharist once each month for these residents. First as deacon and now as priest, I have taken my place in the rotation of those who serve. My wife plays piano as we sing and others bring Dunkin Donuts, visit with the residents, and worship together. The residents know that I am a priest — or at least some form of minister — and that our group is from Apostles Anglican Church. More importantly, they know that we are there and have been there faithfully for years and, God willing, will be there next month. Bread and wine and donut holes and hymns and conversation: that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like one Sunday morning each month.
In which nursing home am I most priestly, I wonder. In the former, I exercise the baptismal priesthood common to all those in Christ Jesus — a Matthew 25 ministry. In the latter, I exercise the sacramental ministry given to me in and through ordination. In each setting I am a priest, which is to say a representative and servant of God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the unity and power of the Holy Spirit. In each setting, through the shared ministry of the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven, for those few moments to those few people.
Can we imagine Jesus speaking such parables?
The Kingdom of God is like a man playing bingo.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man bringing Dunkin Donuts.
Perhaps one day I can serve Eucharist at Peaceful Haven and play bingo at Garden Manor. Bread and Wine and donut holes and coffee and Cheetos and Coke and cheap prizes: such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Such is the priesthood.
Note: The names of both facilities were changed for this reflection.
Photo: Chalmers Butterfield. Used by permission.
John is a Knoxville, Tennessee native and was a third generation member of the Christian Church, where he served as deacon, elder, and teacher. He and his wife, Clare, were drawn to the Anglican Church by the rhythm of the daily office, the richness of liturgy, and the presence of a sacramental worldview. John was ordained to the priesthood in May 2015. He looks forward to continued ministry at Apostles Anglican Church. John and Clare have one daughter who is currently in college studying secondary science education.