How do you thank those who, when you were young, gave you wings to fly?

Years ago, long before the term “flash mob” had emerged, Shortridge High School singers would perform in downtown Indianapolis and then go to the main department store for an impromptu singing of Christmas songs on the escalators. Shoppers were surprised and grateful.

On Sunday, thirty onetime Shortridge singers came to Trinity Episcopal Church, where I grew up. I preached about the joy of singing and how it has shaped my life and many lives. I thanked my home church for that gift.

As my sermon ended, singers stood and faced the congregation, our former conductor Don Neuen (now one of America’s preeminent choral conductors) stepped forward, the organist played the familiar opening chords, and we gave a stunning performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah!”

We fixed our eyes on beloved Don, remembered our parts, and gave everything we had.

The surprised congregation burst into applause. Don gave us a grin of triumph. And we who had been given a gift years ago passed it on to others.

How do you thank someone who gave you wings to fly? You fly.


Q: What is the church’s role in changing people’s lives?

A: I doubt there is just one. A healthy congregation provides healing and hope, guidance, opportunities to serve others, ethical standards, forgiveness, worship, education – and more. Each of those ministries can transform a person’s life, as they encounter God, work alongside others, and discover what God has placed within them.

The gift I preached about recently, however, was “welcome.” Not just being nice, but radical welcome. Welcoming children even when they are squirrelly, welcoming young adults even when they are distracted, welcoming the mean-spirited and cruel, welcoming old folks when other doors are shutting to them, welcoming strangers, outcasts, sinners, good singers, lousy singers, wealthy and poor alike.

That welcome changes lives at deep levels. It’s also what Jesus told us to do.