When I was a curate at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port of Spain, in the mid-1970s, there was a little old lady who regularly joined the choir procession into Choral Evensong. In the way of things in Trinidad, nobody minded very much; she was just a part of the untidiness and unpredictability of life. She occasioned the odd titter or comment, but she almost became a member of the choir.
Her music folder was an old school exercise book, with meaningless scribbles in it, but she sang her heart out anyway, without seeming to clash with the Anglican chant. It was a little miracle of the sort that nobody notice
Now, here's the thing. I guess that we all wrote her off as a little strange, soft in the head. Until, that is, the day when she turned up in the Cathedral Office when I was on duty, to ask for me to certify her application for a passport renewal. I discovered then that she was an 88 year old Anguillan, in complete possession of her faculties. It was we who had lost touch with our faculties of discernment and hospitality, in putting her in the category of 'harmless but strange'. Our behaviour was certainly strange, but not harmless.
How many of the saints of God have I dismissed in this way? Countless perhaps. One of the besetting sins of church leaders is to measure people by their usefulness to the institution, the programme, the active life of the church. So when Jill and I came across Malcolm Guite's sonnet for All Saints' Tide, on 'A Last Beatitude', I remembered my little old lady with gratitude, an angel sent to me by the wisdom and grace of God.
Here's the sonnet: hopefully, you'll be encouraged to buy this wonderful book on 'Sounding the Seasons':
And blessèd are the ones we overlook;
The faithful servers on the coffee rota,
The ones who hold no candle, bell or book
But keep the books and tally up the quota,
The gentle souls who come to ‘do the flowers’,
The quiet ones who organize the fete,
Church sitters who give up their weekday hours,
Doorkeepers who may open heaven’s gate.
God knows the depths that often go unspoken
Amongst the shy, the quiet, and the kind,
Or the slow healing of a heart long broken,
Placing each flower so for a year’s mind.
Invisible on earth, without a voice,
In heaven their angels glory and rejoice.