A COINCIDENCE

AUGUST 22 PHOTOGRAPHS

When my husband, son, and I were visiting churches in the mid-1980's, we noticed that on more than one occasion when we attended services at Old Tennent, a topic that was weighing on our minds just happened to be addressed in Reverend MacKenzie's sermon that Sunday.  As we drove home, one of us would say:  "How strange!" or "What a coincidence!"  The sense that God was at work through His people here at Old Tennent was indeed one of the factors that led us to join the church.

Sunday, August 22, 2004, was the official date of Hugh MacKenzie's retirement as pastor. That morning Dave and I, along with many other Old Tennent members, traveled to Elberon Memorial Church to hear Hugh preach there on the last day of his vacation. In the late afternoon, Dave suggested we go to Old Tennent to leave the cover page for the new directory outside Paula's office so that she would have it the next morning. As Dave went into Old Scot's Hall, I headed up the walkway to the church in order to check that the audio history was working - something I frequently do when I am in the area.

It was a gorgeous blue-sky day, but the old church seemed a lonely place as I approached it. When I turned on the recording and heard Hugh's voice outside, but never again inside those walls, I was feeling pretty sad. It was then that I became aware of a brilliant light coming from within the sanctuary. I pressed my face to the glass doors of the narthex and saw a golden shaft of sunlight, perhaps 6 inches wide, shining over the balcony railing directly onto the front of the newly painted pulpit. It was stunningly beautiful and seemed to shout: "This pulpit is not empty. I AM HERE!" Dave soon joined me and together we watched the sun's ray travel up the front of the pulpit and illuminate the old Bible spread there before it disappeared. At one point, Dave quietly said: "Six pm, August 22, 2004, Hugh MacKenzie's last day at Old Tennent." I wrote to Hugh, telling him of our experience with St. Francis's Brother Sun and received a gracious email from him in response.

During the tumult of this past year when there has been much discussion at Old Tennent about who's in charge and who owns what, I have often thought of the imagery of that afternoon for my answer to those questions. As the anniversary date approached, we thought it might be interesting to return to the church and see if the phenomenon was really all that special. When I tore the page off the Thomas Kinkade daily calendar on our desk and saw (no kidding) this strange "inspirational message" for the August 20/21 weekend: "In one of those moments that will forever hang on the walls of your memory, the sun pushes its way over the horizon", I shouted to Dave: "We are DEFINITELY going to the church tomorrow afternoon."

Feeling a bit like a couple of Druids approaching Stonehenge on the summer solstice, on August 22, 2005, Dave and I returned to Old Tennent with his camera. We arrived at 5:30 and, peering through the glass of the front doors, we saw a little sunlight on the  western pews and a reflection or two here and there, but nothing breathtaking. As many minutes passed, I stared at the balcony railing and doubted that the sun's rays could even get over it to reach the pulpit. Furthermore, as the sun sank lower, an evergreen was beginning to look like it would be in the way. Finally, at just about exactly 6 pm, a narrow spear of sunlight began to touch the side of the pulpit (photo 1). The light slowly widened and began its climb up the front of the pulpit to the old Bible which glowed brilliantly in response. It was all over in about 20 minutes.

We were both thrilled to watch this light show again, but as we drove home I confessed to feeling just a little disappointed. Where was the shaft of sunlight coming from above? We could only imagine there must have been reflective dust particles suspended in the air in 2004. But what disturbance could have stirred them when Sunday services were held in Old Scots that summer and the church almost certainly would have been locked all day?

Then as we downloaded the photos, I saw something we had not noticed while at the church. On all of the pictures that include the underside of the balcony, there is the image of a cross directly in front of the pulpit. From where we stood, it resembled a  miniature of the shroud-draped rustic cross that is erected before Old Tennent's pulpit each Good Friday. It seems in this old Calvinistic church that is so deliberately lacking in religious imagery a stain has already bled through last yearís paint to form its own icon.


SEPTEMBER 4 PHOTOGRAPHS


On September 4, we stopped by the church to take some photos (the last two) and see if the pulpit was still touched by the afternoon sun. A lot had happened since our visit less than two weeks before and like everyone else, our thoughts were with the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The day had its own beauty as the  beam of light now touched the American flag and "the cross" was bathed in the sun's reflection. As the sun sank lower, a bright light reflected up from the interior of the pulpit. But the beautiful imagery of the sun striking the pulpit was gone and the Bible was only a dark silhouette.

What were the odds that last year in the precise moment my spirit needed a boost I would be present to witness from the beginning this 20 minute natural event? The sun's rays seem to illuminate the front of the pulpit in this manner only on a few sunny days around August 22 and presumably also in the spring an equal number of days before the summer solstice. Is it a great coincidence or something more? I wonder - and I am a Thomas. You know how doubtful they can be.

 


Judy Thomas

 

AUGUST 22, 2005

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 4, 2005

 

 

 

Postscript:  The day after I emailed the above message and photos to several friends and family members, Dave and I drove past Freehold's First Presbyterian Church on our way home.  That imposing church, founded in the mid-nineteenth century by Old Tennent members who wanted to worship closer to their homes in Freehold, has a large sign in front of it with a message that is changed periodically.  The words that day startled us (Dave had his camera).  Again, what WERE the odds?

 

ďA COINCIDENCE IS WHEN GOD REMAINS ANONYMOUS!Ē

 

PPS:  In the annual report for 2007, the Trustees reported that :"THE STAIN UNDER THE BALCONY IN THE SANCTUARY WAS REPAIRED."

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