This past weekend I was briefly reunited with some people who profoundly influenced my life. Alice Riley was my Sunday school teacher in the first grade; Mary Singer and Hazel Sonnenwald, Doris Kerns, Edie Roberts, Opal Thomas - all were Sunday school or Vacation Bible School teachers when I was growing up in Wheeling. I honestly couldn't tell you anything specific that I learned from any of them in terms of Bible knowledge (although some of the flannelgraph stories are still embedded in my mind) but each of them were women of faith, and collectively they helped form the village that raised this child.
Dick and Carol Thomas were close friends of my parents and were like a second family to me. They lived across the street from the playground where there were ball fields and a basketball court. When I wasn't playing ball I was at their house, eating their food, drinking their koolaide, cokes, or whatever they happened to have available. This weekend Carol helped organize the surprise for my parents and ensured that everything was in place. She spent most of her time Saturday evening in the kitchen with another family friend, Donna Parsons, preparing food, cleaning up, and taking joy in blessing my family through their service. These ladies' servant behavior Saturday was typical of what I witnessed with regularity as a boy.
It has been nearly 30 years since I regularly attended church in Wheeling. Many of the people I remember are now gone, and some of those that are still there have aged in that time - others don't look much different. Sunday morning's singing, prayers, sermon didn't seem too much different from what I recall. (3 songs, a prayer, a song, communion....) Theologically, philosophically, educationally, experientially - I may not have as much in common with the church in Wheeling as I did 30 years ago, but there is one thing that has not changed - We are family. With all the idiosyncracies and human shortcomings we may have, with whatever differences in opinion we may have, we are family.