Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.
See more Stewardship meditations and get stewardship resources for your parish at cnyepiscopal.org/stewardship>
Do you remember where you were, and what your reaction was, when you first learned that the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was burning? I was out and about when the news first lit up my smartphone; my reaction was utter, stunned disbelief—this just had to be a hoax. It was not.
I have never been to Paris myself, but truly, Notre Dame in Paris is not just a French cathedral, but a gift to people all over the world; it is etched into many of our memories through Victor Hugo’s magnificent novel Notre Dame of Paris, popularized in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In Victor Hugo’s novel, the cathedral itself is at the center of the story, not Quasimodo. If you want to get a sense of Victor Hugo’s tale, skip the modern animated movie, and go for the 1939 movie featuring the great Charles Laughton as the titular character. Or better yet, go to your local bookstore, and pick up a printed copy. This grand story, with its themes of fate, family, and (in-)justice in the 15th century Christian era, sets the foundation for many later authors, including Charles Dickens.
Why should we react so deeply to this magnificent building having been severely damaged by fire? For one, it’s not just any old church—it has stood for centuries, watching over the lives of thousands of people like you and me; it has seen wars, revolutions, defeats and victories; it has seen pain, suffering, redemption and joy. The great cathedral embodies human history as much as it watched over it. For a second, churches are dear to us as the House of the Lord, to which we are glad to go!
Just as Notre Dame de Paris was and is being kept alive by those who visit, pray and worship in it, so our own churches are kept alive by us, who visit, pray, worship, work and volunteer in them, and reach out to our communities from them.
As fall approaches, our church leadership will ask us to consider in prayer and action our own commitment to a life in Christ and as members of our church. I’m asking you to respond with grace and generosity. We do not know whether our churches will stand in a few hundred years, or who will worship our God in them; but we do know that it is up to us, living our lives as followers of Christ, and standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, to in turn enable those coming after us to stand on our shoulders as they carry on proclaiming the Good News. Let us do so!