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Nov 08, 2013 | The Rev. Stephen Stine

Grateful for the Nameless Guide


[Diolog Magazine] In April 1984, my father, Ed Stine, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. He had been a “good churchman” in The Episcopal Church, doing any task from repairing the “swamp cooler” air conditioners on the roof of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas, to serving on the Long-Range Planning Committee of the Diocese of Northwest Texas.  


By December 1, 1984, the First Sunday of Advent, I had spent the time since my dad’s death trying to find a way to honor him through service in the church. In 1984 I was working as a vice president and regional manager of internal bank examinations in El, Paso, Texas, for a statewide bank-holding company.  Three years earlier, I had started the Diocese of the Rio Grande program for training vocational deacons, but had not completed the course work. In the summer and fall of 1984, I began attending noon weekday holy Eucharist at the Episcopal Pro-Cathedral Church of St. Clement’s, which was within walking distance of my downtown office.  Then, in November, I started going to Sunday morning celebrations.  For the most part I stayed to myself, but I did speak several times about my circumstances with one of the St. Clement’s priests, The Rev. Jon Receconi.  He encouraged me to come to an Advent meditation that he would conduct in a chapel at St. Clement’s, before the main service on December 1.


After the meditation, I found a seat on the center aisle about halfway down the middle of the nave. I began silently reciting a prayer I had learned recently, “Make me your servant, Lord.  Show me how to be your servant, Lord.”  I had been saying the prayer for about a minute, when I saw a very tall man enter the nave from the door that was   diagonally to my right.  


I knew that the Lord had answered my prayer.  The man walked to the transept, reverenced the high altar, and walked down the center aisle.  He wanted to sit with someone during the 10:30 a.m. Eucharist, but the body language of the people sitting ahead of me was not inviting.  Despite my embarrassment, I made eye contact with the man, moved over, and gestured for him to sit with me. He was a man who lived on the streets.  His clothes were old and disheveled, his hair was matted and greasy, and his body odor was pungent. But I sensed that he had come to St. Clement’s to participate in the main Sunday service, that he was not looking for a handout, and that he understood liturgical ritual.  


And he wanted to sing. But his voice was very loud and un-modulated.  So despite the fact that he was about seven inches taller than I was, I stood on my toes and sang into his right ear to smooth the level of his voice.  And he wanted to comment in a  “stage whisper” on the sermon delivered by the Very Rev. Durstan McDonald, then dean of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin.  So I spoke gently to the man, patting him on his right leg, and suggesting that he should “quietly listen to this man of God.”  He nodded at me and remained quiet.


As the usher came to our pew to signal us to go to the rail to receive communion, the man stood, walked to the transept ahead of me, bowed to the altar, turned to his right, and left the building.  I took the sacraments and returned to my seat.  I realized three things.  First, I was soaking wet from sweat.  My heavily-starched all-cotton tailored shirt had adhered to my suit jacket to make one layer with my skin.  Second, the light in St. Clement’s had become intensely bright, far stronger than I have ever seen it.  Third, I had the strong sense of our Lord telling me, in a clear wordless way, that he wanted me to serve Him as a vocational deacon.  


I resumed studies in January 1985, and was ordained as a deacon in 1986. 


About a week after my encounter with the man at St. Clement’s, I saw him while walking back to my office after lunch.  I tried to get his attention from across the street and hurried after him, but he slipped away. Despite the time that we shared, we did not learn each other’s names.  Years later, during a sermon that I delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN, I made the point about not knowing the man’s name.  After the service, my son Daniel, who was then about nine years old, told me, “Dad, you know what the man’s name was.  He was Jesus.”


Stine is a deacon at Christ Church, Tyler.