St. Christopher’s, Fort Worth, processional cross

By: Tanya Eiserer

In April 2021, things were just starting to return to normal as the pandemic began to recede.

We’d returned to in-person worship on Easter. It was a joyous worship service tempered by the knowledge that it was to be one of the last times we would worship in that space.

St. Christopher’s, Fort Worth, found itself on the losing end of a contentious 12-year lawsuit in a diocese that broke up over women in the priesthood and gay marriage. Losing meant relinquishing our church building and many precious items contained within, including the brass processional cross that led us into worship for decades.

It’s been said the church is not the building; it’s the people in it.

We’d find out what it’s really like to live that maxim. 

A Lutheran church welcomed us with open arms, exemplifying the true meaning of loving our neighbors as ourselves. As a parish, we had helped so many, now we found ourselves accepting help. Humbling to be sure. But freeing us from our old constraints.

We’ve grieved and agonized over that loss. While time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does help put them into perspective. Some of us even now believe the loss of the building may have been just what we needed. We’d been dying in place; we just hadn’t realized it.

In the last 18 months, we’ve welcomed the Rev. Paula Jefferson, an energetic priest who’s reinvigorated the church from top to bottom. We’ve seen new faces fill the pews. We’ve even got a kids’ section. What a concept. Parents and their kids now organically fill a side section of the sanctuary. Our Sunday adult Christian formation classes often fill to capacity. We’ve got a thriving group of career-age professionals who meet most Sundays to partake in a meal, fellowship, study and worship.

But sometimes, as human nature would have it, you still yearn for some of what you lost.

One of those things was that brass processional cross. 

It meant something, particularly to our older members.

This past summer, we raised funds to celebrate our priest’s one-year anniversary. The family of Doris Gregory, one of our late parishioners, donated the funds to buy the new cross.

Doris led the altar guild for more than a decade. She’d been a stalwart member of St. Christopher’s. It seemed appropriate that it be donated in honor of someone who once brought her little grill to church to burn the prior year’s palm fronds to be used on Ash Wednesday.

Other members of the parish located the company that made the original processional cross. They agreed to forge a replica. It took eight months.

On Easter this year, the new processional cross led us into worship to the strains of “He is Risen.” The joyful words of that song ringing out into the sanctuary. 

The cross made its debut in the hands of Jeanneane Keene. At 90, she could only lift the cross a few inches off the floor.

Jeanneane joined St. Christopher’s two weeks after the church’s founding in 1957. She is the last living member of that original group.  She may have been among the first to carry that original cross, and now she’d be the first to carry it in a Sunday worship service.

It seemed fitting.

Walking just behind her in the procession was one of our younger acolytes –a strapping 12-year-old boy who looks 16 and happens to be my son.   

He carried the new processional cross high during the gospel reading and as our priest baptized five children. In the act of baptism, we welcome new members into the body of Christ.

Just as it was fitting for Jeanneane to carry the cross in, it seemed fitting for the future of the church to carry the cross as our priest proclaimed the Gospel and baptized new Christians.

It was the symbolic passing of the torch, a reminder of the enduring power of the message of hope and salvation that we have as Christians. 

While St. Christopher’s remains a people without a worship space to call our own, we know with absolute certainty that we are a people of resurrection. Hope will find a way.  

Tanya Eiserer is a longtime member of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Fort Worth. She is a broadcast journalist at a local TV station.

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