I am currently on a tour with members of the Knoxville Choral Society. We are visiting towns in Belgium and France. At this moment, I am sitting on a bus, driving through the French countryside on the way to Bayeux, France; a town, not too far from Normandy and the D-Day beaches.
This past Friday, we found ourselves in the City of Brussels, Belgium. A city still on a high level of alert after the terror attacks in March. Everywhere we went, there were armed guards with their assault rifles at the ready, diligent in their task to protect their city and citizens. Honestly, it was quite sobering.There is light in this town, though, and we found it in a small Catholic parish, quite close to the city square or as they call it, “Grand Place.” The church was the Church of Saint Marie-Madeline. A 13th century church with beautiful stained-glass windows, and filled with people possessing warm smiles and a Priest with a heart that far exceeds the size of his parish.
When we arrived for rehearsal that morning, the Priest greeted us heartily and began to tell us the story of a refugee family they had been housing at the church for a few days. They were in process of finding permanent housing for the family and you could see on his face that he was very burdened with the physical and spiritual needs of this family. My thoughts immediately turned to “Family Promise” and my own church’s participation in a ministry devoted to ministering to homeless families.
The Priest mentioned they would be taking an offering that evening after the mass and our concert to help with the needs of the family. The translation wasn’t lost on these generous Tennessee Volunteers that I travel with, and we were taking up our own offering on the way to the service to present to the Priest. I use the words generous, because these 50+ souls I am traveling with are some of the most gracious, loving and generous folks I have ever had the pleasure of being associated.
I had the honor of presenting our offering to the priest after the concert. His eyes were filled with such thankfulness and surprise. I shared with him about the Family Promise ministry “back home” and how I knew this must be a daunting task for a small parish church to take on. We exchanged hugs and wishes for continued ministry and blessings. It was a moment that will be engraved on my heart for many years to come.
As I was reflecting on it later, I realized ministry and love for our fellow man exceeds the boundaries of religious affiliation. As I sat in the mass that evening, the liturgy and rote of worship was quite foreign to me. So gratifying though to see the lifting of prayers to God, the love shared in that small church and the language of music was experienced and understood by all.