Grace Notes

There were two grace notes that lifted my spirit in an otherwise dreary weekend in Chicago. It’s been in the upper 40’s and 50’s and raining. This morning, to make matters even more unpleasant, a thick fog rolled in from the lake. The gloomy weather reflects my state of mind as I read about the president attacking the rule of law and trying, ever more frantically, to discredit the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice. Every day it seems that he finds a new way to attack the very institutions upon which this precious experiment in representative democracy rests. And with each outlandish tweet and repulsive verbal bullying his support strengthens with his base. To add insult to injury a Cubs pitcher walked in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Cincinnati on Saturday. It’s depressing.

So what happened on Saturday at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle significantly improved my mood: a wonderful display of beauty, dignity, civility, patriotism and even a bit of racial inclusivity that I long for and haven’t seen or experienced lately. The British Monarchy and Royal Family don’t much interest me generally. My mother did drag me in from playing in the alley one morning in 1952 to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II on our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Whetstein’s, tiny back and white television. And in the middle of a beach vacation with dear friends my wife and her counterpart made hats from newspapers and got up in the middle of the night to watch the wedding of Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. Beyond that I don’t pay much attention. Last Saturday’s event was a whole other story. The bride was a mixed race American divorcée, the wedding homily was to be delivered by the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, who is black, and there was going to be a Gospel choir. This is going to be interesting, I thought, so we got up at 4:30, put the coffee pot on and sat, mesmerized, for the next several hours. The day was gorgeous with a true-blue dream of a sky that I haven’t seen around here recently. And what isn’t there to like about British ceremony, bright colors, military precision, beautifully groomed horses, wonderful music, stately Anglican liturgy? One picture I won’t forget was of the handsome African American mother of the bride exiting with first-in-line-for-the-throne, Prince Charles. Michael Curry brought the American Black church tradition into the high Gothic pulpit and preached pure gospel with energy and eloquent passion. It was unprecedented, extraordinary and it lifted my spirit for the rest of the day.

Sunday was Confirmation Day at our church and our 13-year-old granddaughter, Ella, was one of the 33 young people confirmed during worship. That alone is enough to fill a grandparent’s heart with pride and gratitude. Even more though are the particularities of Ella’s confirmation in a Presbyterian Church. Her mother, my son’s wife, is a life-long devout and loyal Roman Catholic. Their three daughters attend parochial school, but their parents decided when they were born that they would be exposed to and become a part of St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church and the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Ella’s older sister, Kate, was confirmed in our church and a year later in her mother’s church. Ella was confirmed at St. Matthias in January and last Sunday became a full member of Fourth Presbyterian. The girls are technically Catholic Presbyterians or Presbyterian Catholics. The fact that it is not only highly unusual but probably violates the rules, regulations and membership requirements of both churches doesn’t seem to bother them or their parents a bit. I don’t want to make too much of it but I can’t help seeing in my granddaughters and their peculiar ecclesiastical status a vision of Christian unity, our oneness in Christ which both Catholics and Presbyterians affirm but have not yet figured out how to express ecclesiastically. Ella and Kate portend a lovely and hopeful vision of the day when the terms Catholic and Protestant will have lost their meaning and are no longer necessary.

When the minister invited the 33 young people to line up in the long center aisle and asked parents to join them and place a hand on their daughter’s or son’s shoulder and then asked the congregation to stand and lay hands on them by placing a hand on the shoulder of the neighbor in the pew, the persons on the aisle connecting all of us to our young members, it was quite a moment.

Along with the beautiful wedding it lifted my spirits, brought a tear to my eye and reminded me of Isaiah’s beautiful prophetic vision of the day when…
“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
The calf and the lion together,
and a little child shall lead them.”

John M. Buchanan


  1. Diane Buchanan says:

    Thank you for these thoughtful reflections! Such a lovely weekend for you!

  2. Rick Andrew says:

    Thank you for lifting my spirit and bringing a tear to my eye.

  3. Catherine Sigmar says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. Leave it to you, John, to get to the truth of the moment and expose it for all of us to see. In both cases of joy you cite, the royal wedding and the confirmation of your granddaughter, the most important Gospel truths were settled first. In the case of the royal wedding, the decision of what really mattered was sorted by the royal family, as was the religious upbringing of your grandchildren by your wise children. Then it was a matter of honoring those commitments in beautiful and meaningful ways before God and the people in worship. Choices were made using the framework of the best of centuries-old practices and adding newly discovered ways to be faithful. Ah, such models of grace and beauty. Alas, I have no insights on the Cubs, however, except that they eventually seem to reward loyalty of which you have much. Maybe a surprise is in store there too?

  5. Jared Jacobsen says:

    I was on an even keel, John, until I got to your last two paragraphs and then the waterworks started. Good thing the pup in my lap already knows that his dad is such a softy—he looks up at me, rolls his eyes, thinks “salty fur AGAIN”, heaves a puppy sigh, and goes back to sleep.
    Thank you, good friend, for beginning my to-be-crowded day on such a positive note!

  6. Jerold Shetler says:

    I have appreciated all of your writings but this one was especially meaningful to me. Your experience of the wedding was a duplicate of mine. I thought the whole experience was magestic

    Your record of the granddaughters confirmation was much appreciated in this household. Our oldest son is married to a very loyal Catholic and after years of remaining a Presbyterian decided to join his wife and their five children in the Catholic room of Gods great Church. I am happy to report that I shared in their wedding and also in the baptism of their children. Your story brought memory and hope. Keep up the good words.

  7. Tom Eggebeen says:

    Great piece, great peace. In the midst of the mess, to be reminded of good things. Thanks John.

  8. Bud & Monet Fennema says:

    John, Bud and I are in total agreement on both of your grace notes. Thank you.
    Congratulations to Ella and her parents. We were part of the laying on of hands Sunday, with the additional blessing connection to all participants. Lovely.
    Bud and Monet

  9. Virginia Tennant Crown Point, Indiana says:

    John, your message was “right on! !!!!! You always manage to express my own thoughts so perfectly! Love to you and Sue. Jinny Tennant

  10. Jeff Kisner says:

    Thanks, John. A gorgeous day for us in Ottawa to celebrate 41 years of marriage 😎.

    Sent from my iPhone


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