Today, we celebrate Michaelmas—the feast of St. Michael and All Angels—our patronal feast day. It wasn’t always our feast day. We did not start out as St. Michael and All Angels. When the parish we know today as St. Michael and All Angels was founded, we didn’t even have a patron saint. We didn’t really have a name. We were known as “The North Valley Episcopal Mission”—a mission congregation of the Cathedral of St. John.
On days like this—patronal feast days, you wish that our founders had some special insight into the character of the community that would become St. Michael’s. You wish they had some kind of divine prescience that helped them see the future of that little mission church housed in a storefront on the corner Fourth and Bellrose. But that was not the case.
Bishop Stoney, vicar of that little mission congregation, had been consecrated bishop of this diocese at an Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama called St. Michael and All Angels. When it was time for The North Valley Mission to have a proper name, the good bishop suggested “St. Michael and All Angels.” The rest is history. It wasn’t a name chosen to fit a community. It wasn’t a name selected to inspire those who worshipped under its banner. It wasn’t a saint the people loved or a name they suggested. And yet….it’s a name, that at our best, I think we live into.
St. Michael and All Angels. Sometimes we live into the Michael part of the name—standing at the gate, making clear the boundaries between that of God and that of Satan, coming to the aid of those who struggle against forces that corrupt and destroy the people of God (Walter Wink, Unmasking the Powers). Indeed, that has been an important part of our history as the worshipping community we know as Live at Five and as the congregation of St. Michael’s.
More often we live out the “All Angels” part of the name.
*Angels who seek out the lost and forlorn
*Angels who provide bread to the hungry
*Angels who offer support and encouragement
*Angels pleading for mercy
*Angels speaking out against injustice
*Angels reassuring the fearful
*Angels encouraging the despondent.
Angels of promise. Angels of presence. Angles of hope.
Like the angel who encouraged Joseph to take a risk and marry a pregnant woman.
Like the angel who rolled away the stone opening the way to the empty tomb and a whole new world.
On days like today, on days when the church is filled with images of angels, I find myself wondering, “Do we really need them? Do we really need images of angels carved in wood, formed from tin, made of paper? Are we even looking in the right direction?”
Perhaps we need to be looking to our past. Looking to those angels who guided our church during the early days.
*Angels like the four women who scoured the North Valley for cradle Episcopalians who might be part of The North Valley Episcopal Mission
*Angels like Juanita Roper who time and again in the early days reassured her fellow congregants, “We can do it”
*Angels who came together to build the first church on this property—bringing with them their hammers and saws and drills and shovels
*Angels who gathered in a darkened nave the morning after an arsonist torched the sacristy coming together to rebuild the church
*Angels who, when we lost our loan and yet had a new house of worship under way, not only pulled out their checkbooks but also hit the pavement looking for support
*Angels who started Casa San Miguel and breakfast at St. Martin’s and dinner at Dismas House and who still come out to feed the hungry
*Angels who served with humility, grace and love.
Perhaps we might even look around us. Now. Angels all around us. Angels in our midst. Encouraging us. Comforting us. Reassuring us. Calling us to act for justice. Pointing to those ladders that extend up to heaven and down to earth. Showing us the way to new life in Christ.
The real angels in our midst are not on the banco. They’re in the pews. And in our memories as well. Standing beside us. Joining their voices in song. Bending their knees in prayer. Living lives that inspire us to live into our name—St. Michael and All Angels.