Angels Second Class
I don't suppose there's a better time of year to think about angels. On Saturday night this past week I settled in and watched, for the umpteenth time, the 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life. As a believer the beginning of the film takes me to a childlike place in my faith - a star filled night sky with a divine court represented by clusters of stars that get brighter and blink as they narrate the flashback that's the basis for the rest of the story. When the divine council calls on Clarence - the 200 + year old angel who's still working for his wings - to intervene in George Bailey's life Clarence asks the divine court if George is sick. "No, it's worse... he's discouraged." When George's discouragement turns to despair he does something he doesn't usually do. He prays. "Dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me... show me the way, show me the way." And then Clarence dives in.
Later in the film George tells Clarence that given what he's been through lately Clarence is just the kind of angel he'd expect - a fallen one. "What happened to your wings?" George asks. "I haven't won my wings yet," Clarence says. "That's why I'm called Angel Second Class. I have to earn them. And you'll help me will you?"
Yesterday afternoon we held the final service of Holy Eucharist at The Washington Home. Our relationship with The Washington Home was as profound as it was long-lasting. As our parish historian Ruth Cline has written, "The Washington Home for the Incurables" was founded in 1888 by Mrs. Charles S. Hill, niece of the philanthropist William W. Corcoran. The home would provide care for helpless and destitute chronically ill people. In 1892 the home moved to a location on the border of St. Alban's Parish and thus our relationship began.
In a book called Happy Issue: My Handicap and the Church, St. Alban's parishioner G. Janet Tulloch (d. 2000) described her struggles with cerebral palsy and her participation in St. Alban's York Club for young adults. Janet became a resident of the home in 1967 and published A Home is Not a Home (Seabury Press, 1975, foreword by Senator Charles H. Percy) which described Janet's personal experiences with the residents and staff. A Home is not a Home sensitized many to the challenges and indignities of institutional life and members of this parish have answered those challenges and indignities with a ministry of presence and love for more than 100 years.
As I wrote in an earlier Cup about The Washington Home, the population there has been dwindling for the year or so since the announcement that the home that is not a home would close its doors. Just last week the two lone remaining residents were moved out. Yesterday we held a service to remember and say farewell to our ministry to The Washington Home for the Incurables, that place where so many St. Alban's parishioners became angels first class.
About twenty-five of us were gathered yesterday. Instead of a homily we told stories. We laughed, we sang, we cried, and we prayed that while the chapel we would leave yesterday would no longer be a chapel, and that while its closing means a sense of loss, we are comforted by the knowledge that God is not tied to any place or building, nor is our work as the church.
Thanks be to God for the ministry both given and received in The Washington Home. Thanks be to God for every resident, every lay reader, every homily, every hymn. Pray with us as we seek a new home and new lay leadership such that a new generation of angels can earn their wings.