Wherever I travel, I wear a wooden bead bracelet onto which is carved the biblical phrase: Wherever you go, I will go with you. I have always found that declaration so lovingly reassuring. So when, in late November, I received a ticket to North Carolina to join my cousins in Asheville for Thanksgiving, the said bracelet was securely on my wrist as I travelled to Heathrow; but initially, all did not go well!
At Border Security in Raleigh, a forgotten banana was located in my hand luggage. Blue light flashing overhead, I was escorted to ‘Agriculture’, twisting my bracelet and praying. En route I suggested, to save paperwork, I might just eat the offending item. Distinct lack of humour in US Security! Finally, I was released to my anxious cousins in the Arrivals Hall.
Once in Asheville, I was able to assist my cousin who had postsurgery mobility problems, so I took out the garbage next morning … to be met by a huge black bear on the drive! Twisting my bracelet prayerfully, I tried, in vain, to recall Attenborough’s advice on what to do when confronted by a bear. Fortunately, having looked me up and down, the ‘monster’ left, crashing through the high fence without even a backward glance.
My real surprise was being able to be in church – twice! One cousin was a choir member of the Cathedral of All Souls, an active Episcopal church in the Biltmore Village area of Asheville. The impressive interior was a Greek cruciform, a design said to be inspired by abbey churches in Northern England.
The first service was Carols and Lessons by Candlelight. With a 30-strong choir, singing unaccompanied and conducted by the organist, it was a spiritually uplifting experience. The second service was led by the Dean. Her theme, ‘Jesus the Refugee’, was truly inspiring. It mirrored a service which Coventry’s Dean had preached a few weeks earlier and included a rendition of the Besançon carol – originally from Coventry, apparently!
Here was a church with an outward focus. It was clearly communicated that visitors were welcome, with volunteers outside directing parking and assisting the elderly into church, all with smiles and chat. Seating for visitors was reserved near the front to ensure they could see, hear and enjoy the service. We were invited to join in ‘friendship and fellowship’ for coffee and home-made cake after the service. In the days that followed, I had time to reflect on our omnipresent Saviour and, appropriately at Thanksgiving, give thanks for His innumerable blessings. I realised then that, like my cousin at All Souls, I too belong to a church where all are welcome, trust is present and where our gifts and graces enable us to be who God knows us to be. You make all that possible. Thank you, everyone.