By Maria Ong
Tell me about yourself.
I live with my husband and two daughters (with another child on the way) and three cats. We’ve been going to Redeemer for eleven years this fall. My husband, Alan, and I were married there in 2007, and both our girls were baptized there. I have been a writer, editor, and teacher. I currently work from home as a part-time writing coach, which is really fun!
How did you find Redeemer?
Alan found Redeemer when we were dating. It’s the standard story: I’m Catholic, he’s Protestant. We were looking to find the place that was going to be the right fit for both of us. He was living in Lexington at the time, so he ended up going to Redeemer one week and liked it. So we both started going. We joined a Connect group that was kind-of a cross between EFM (Education for Ministry) and Dinner for Eight, which met one evening a week for six weeks. We went and got to know people. It was nice to feel like you knew people, and people knew who you were. And so we felt like Redeemer was a really welcoming community.
What keeps you coming back?
I’m kind-of a church nerd.
A church nerd? I’ve never heard of that.
I took on that label from my dear friend Neela, from my college church. To me it means, having an unusual level of interest in all of the aspects of church, from the theology to the way the service is run. So Redeemer is a perfect fit for a person like me, because it’s always wanting people to be involved in something. I’ve been on the Worship Committee since it started. We talk about how we’d like to see the service happen; there are certain rubrics that have to be followed for it to be a real church service, but there’s also a lot of flexibility, so we have long discussions about how to get other people aware of what’s happening in the service and how we might structure services and do things differently. Like last year at Pentecost, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if something came down from the balcony, like the tongues of flame? And the kids came up with the paper birds and did it so beautifully. The prayer banner on the back wall was my idea, and my stitching. That was exciting to see that finished.
I’ve also been on Liturgy Team a bunch of times; that’s the team that does the greeting, takes the offering, and does the readings. I’ve been on the Retreat Team, planning some of the programming, and later on, the Green Team, which focuses on environmental choices for the church and its members. I did EFM, which is a four-year program, as part of the first cohort. You learn about the Old Testament, New Testament, theology. It’s an incredible way to go deep in your faith, while getting to know people in your church. And a while back, Alan and I both taught Sunday school — the oldest group, in YAC (Young Adults in Church). That was an interesting experience for us, both being teachers. Alan’s a high school teacher, I was a middle school teacher. Working with high schoolers was natural but it was also funny, working with a different angle than school. They were very, very conflict-averse within the group. It was fun to push them to have discussions that they wouldn’t normally have, and to try to teach them that it’s okay to disagree with people as long as you do it with tact and love.
How are you involved in planning for the Great Vigil of Easter?
The Easter Vigil is the most under-attended service the entire year. If I can get one thing out of this interview, it’s higher attendance at this year’s Easter Vigil, which happens on Saturday night before Easter. It’s the culmination of the three days, the Triduum, before Easter. It is the most beautiful service.
At the end of Maundy Thursday everything is stripped. The altar is bare. Everything is bare. The cross is draped. Everything is sad. And then, on Saturday, the Altar Guild comes in and starts setting Easter. They get the flowers in, and they swap out the wood cross for the gold cross. So we, the Liturgy Team, come in and drape the gold cross with black, we drape all the flowers with black. We re-clear everything, so when we start the service, it’s still not Easter.
The Vigil starts outside with the lighting of the fire, and then the priest lights the Easter candle from the fire. Then, just as each of our baptismal candles was lit from an Easter candle when we were baptized, we again light candles from the Easter candle and pass the light from person to person. As we process inside, the priest chants an incredible piece called the Exultet. We go in, and the church is dark. We have basically the history of salvation in five readings.… At that point, the lights start to come up. And then, there might be a baptism.
And then, while Bernadette is playing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” the Liturgy Team goes through and we’re re-setting everything while we’re singing. It’s so beautiful! And then we wish each other Happy Easter.
[Note: This year’s Great Vigil of Easter will be on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 7:30 pm.]
You mentioned your daughters. What does it mean to you that Redeemer is part of your family’s and your daughters’ lives?
It’s huge. It really is. To me, I’ve always felt so supported there. It’s a place where I can, to some extent, relax a little bit. Last Christmas, I was getting my four-year old changed out of her angel costume and back into her dress, and then she ran off. And I wasn’t worried. When we found her, she was upstairs in the Soft Space of the church, playing with a baby she had seen earlier. Then Rev. Andrew was teasing me, “Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” You know, that’s just what it’s like there at Redeemer. It’s so good. And it’s so good for the girls to have that place where they feel at home and have that real grounding in being able to talk about God, or difficult subjects, like death.
Redeemer’s services are really carefully designed for kids. Years ago, two Redeemer services merged: the really participatory 9 o’clock service, and the really quiet 11 o’clock service. When the merge happened, there was this sense that it was really, really important that people be involved, especially children. So, it’s very, very deliberate. Readings are selected that a ten-year old could do. Kids are invited to the altar to take part in the Eucharistic Prayer. There’s nothing that we do at Redeemer that isn’t carefully thought out about how it’s going to affect the kids.
How does the work you do at Redeemer fit in with other parts of your life?
It is my life. Since I stopped working full-time, it is the main way that I have to make a difference and be a part of a community and use what I’m good at. And even when I was working, EFM was such an important thing. It met once a week, but it was so valuable, and it was so much connection and so much growth at once that it felt very central to my week…. The things that we’re asked to do as Christians are hard. It’s easy to not to want to commit or connect with something. So for me, more church is a good thing. It’s a point that holds you steady. The more you’re looped in, the more it becomes part of you and holds you there.
Photos courtesy of CK
(Cara & Alan’s wedding, 2007; Baptism of younger daughter, 2015; Christmas Pageant, 2015)