The Tablecloth

We, the Knights of Columbus, are a fraternal men’s club that strongly advocates Family.  Our Church is our (the Lord’s) family.  There is nothing that happens in the church that does not affect us all.

Sometimes we forget “family” and its importance.  I enjoy the homilies of our Parochial Vicar, Fr. Labosky, for he often speaks of our family and shares many stories of events, challenges, and crises that many have encountered and eventually overcome.

Many of us are northern transplants and we are joined now by many from South and Central America. In the Knights of Columbus, we have a lot of baby boomers and some World War II veterans in our midst.  Their stories are of the Irish, Italian, German, Polish, Eastern European, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and other nationalities that migrated to our shores in great numbers after World War I.  They were refugees, war brides, and dreamers.  There were lots and lots of struggles that culminated in the creation of the post-war industrial boom that led to the rebuilding of Europe.  And, along the way, they built a very strong nation using their skills in American factories, industry, and building our expansive farms that fed the world.

Today, we have a new wave of immigrants fleeing turmoil in their native lands.  We welcome them, as our families have been welcomed for over 200 years.

No one flees the safety of a village, town, or city that is safe and free of strife. Some may leave to explore and grow, but most leave the lands of their birth to overcome strife, poverty, hunger, death, and destruction.

The Holocaust was over 75 years ago and few today know what it was all about, let alone the fact that it exists in some form somewhere today.  It was not just about the Jews.  Many, many others perished.  Families were separated and some never reunited.

This story is shared as Christmas 2016 arrives in Chapel Hill.  It was originally shared during  Christmas 1973 and is about a church in Brooklyn, New York.  It is timeless.  We share it with you as all of us, in the safety of our homes and church in Chapel Hill, are reminded of  the experience of one pastor just two days before Christmas a long time ago.

The Tablecloth

tableclothI would like to share a true story which took place on Christmas in 1973, as told by Pastor Robert Reid.  In October, a pastor and his wife arrived in their first parish, a church in Brooklyn which they were assigned to re-open by Christmas Eve.  They were very excited about the opportunity, in spite of the fact that when they saw the church, it was run down and in need of many repairs.  They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc. and on December 18th were just about finished, ahead of schedule.  On Dec 19th a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days.  On Dec 21st the pastor went over to the church.  He was devastated to see that the roof had leaked and caused a large area of plaster about 6 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor and headed for home, not sure what to do about the situation.  On the way he noticed a flea market sale for charity and stopped in.  One of the items for sale was a beautiful, hand-made, crocheted table cloth.  The work was exquisite, with a cross done in fine colors centered on an ivory background.  It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the wall of the church.  He bought it and headed back to church.  By this time it had grown cold and begun to snow.  He saw an older woman running from the opposite direction trying to catch the bus, which she missed.  He invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus, which was due to arrive in 45 minutes.  She sat in a pew and watched while he got a ladder and whatever he needed to hang the tablecloth as a wall tapestry.  He could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and that it covered up the entire area that had been damaged.

Suddenly he noticed that the woman was coming down the center aisle.  Her face was white.  “Pastor,” she asked, “where did you get that tablecloth?”  He explained the story to her.  She asked him to look in the lower right corner and see if the initials EBG were crocheted into the cloth.  They were.  Those were her initials; she had made the tablecloth 35 years earlier in Austria.  She explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.  When the Nazis came, she, as a Jewish woman, was forced to leave for her safety and it was arranged that her husband, who was a Christian, would arrange their affairs and follow her.  She was captured, sent to a concentration camp, and never saw her husband or her home again.  The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth, but she insisted that he keep it for the church.  In turn, he insisted on driving her home, he felt that was the least he could do.  She lived on the far side of Staten Island and had been in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

They had a wonderful service at the church on Christmas Eve.  The church was almost full.  The music was beautiful and there was a tangible spirit of good will.  At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said they would return.  After everyone else was gone, they noticed an older man, whom they had seen around the neighborhood, sitting in one of the pews staring at the front of the church.  They went over to him and the man asked where the tablecloth on the wall had come from.  He was sure it was identical to one that his wife had made many years before in Austria before the war.  He could not believe that two handmade tablecloths could be so much alike.

He told them how the Nazis had come, and he arranged for his wife, who was Jewish, to flee to safety.  Before he could join her, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp.  He never saw his wife or his home again.  The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a ride.  They drove to Staten Island, to the house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.  He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment and they knocked on the door.  Then the pastor witnessed the greatest Christmas present he could ever imagine.

Like many of the promises of God, this story sounds too good to be true, but, like God’s promises, it is true.   So often we hear complaints that Christmas has gotten too commercial, that the focus is too much on the secular rather than “the reason for the season” as the saying goes.  Christmas only becomes secular when we permit it to be.  We live in one of the most diverse places in the world, a place where we respect one another’s beliefs and traditions.  Although not everyone celebrates Christmas, most people want to share in the spirit of the holiday season.

After the tragedy unfolded in Newtown, it was the clergy and houses of worship of all faiths that offered consolation and places to gather.  In the same way, we can accept all holiday greetings in the spirit in which they are intended.  “Happy Holiday” originally came from an English greeting “Happy Holy Day” and usually means that someone wants to wish us well but they are not sure of what tradition we follow.  It is appropriate to offer a “Happy Hanukkah,” to our Jewish friends and loved ones.  We have several interfaith families here in our congregation who celebrate both festivals.  The true story of the interfaith couple who were separated after the horrors of WWII, only to be reunited 35 years later on Christmas Eve, can inspire us to lovingly accept and share all holiday greetings.  We can only imagine what the symbols and lights of the holiday season must have meant to them in the years that followed their miraculous reunion.

st-john-lutheran-churchThe menorahs that are lit in windows tell the story of the miracle of one day’s supply of oil that lasted for eight days for the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.  The twinkling Christmas lights and beautiful decorations are symbols of God’s gift of Jesus who came into the world on Christmas. May we open our hearts during this blessed season so that all of the sacred symbols reminder us of the possibility of miracles, and the truth of God’s promises.  Amen.”  by The Reverend Laurie B. Cline, Pastor, St. John Lutheran Church, Bellmore, New York.

We are often so close to what we are searching for, but are, sadly looking down and not up. Our feet will take us, we just need to keep our eyes open for the memories, signs, people, and events that God has placed before us. A Knight’s Quest.

Merry Christmas to all and a very Happy New Year. Felice Navidad. Happy Hanukkah.

Lee Heavlin, Chancellor