All Times and Places

About 25 years ago now, as a newly ordained pastor serving a small country church in Kentucky, I thought we should have a special service on All Saints Day, although it wasn’t their custom to do so. I planned and promoted it for weeks.

By J. Bennett Guess


About 25 years ago now, as a newly ordained pastor serving a small country church in Kentucky, I thought we should have a special service on All Saints Day, although it wasn’t their custom to do so. I planned and promoted it for weeks.

When the evening of November 1 arrived, about 30 bulletins sat neatly folded in the narthex and my typed sermon manuscript was waiting for me at the pulpit. I had practiced each of the hymns thoroughly, since I was not only the preacher but church musician as well.

I lit the sanctuary candles and dozens of votives around the chancel. Dressed in my black robe, with white stole, I listened patiently in my little office, just off the sanctuary, for any sounds of the big-wooden church doors opening or car doors slamming in the gravel parking lot.

Nothing. Not a sound.

At about 7:06 p.m., the realization came over me that not a single person was going to show. I felt foolish, stupid even. But I comforted myself knowing I could just repurpose the order of worship and sermon for the upcoming Sunday. I promised myself I would never mention another word about it and, yes, it would absolutely be the last time I would ever attempt anything special for these miserable ingrates.

Just as I was blowing out the candles and taking off my robe, a door of the church opened. Someone had shown up. It was my mother, who had driven about 30 miles to be there. Looking at the empty sanctuary, she was confused, asking if she had mistaken the start time. I barked back abrasively, “We’re not having it.”

But sensing my deflation, as only a mother can, she said emphatically, “Well I’m here and I came to worship!” And, despite my protest and with her consoling, I could tell she was dead serious. The service would go on as planned.

So, feeling a little bit like a mother-child pretend worship tea party, I relit the candles, zipped up my robe, stepped behind the pulpit.

“May the Lord be with you,” I said. “And also with you,” she responded, from about the fourth or fifth pew.

And together, we recited an opening litany, calling forth all creation, all humankind, to come and sit with us, to stand beside us, recalling all that God has done for us and remembering God’s mercies from generation to generation to generation.

After a few moments, even the awkwardness strangely subsided as, together, we felt that room being filled with all the love that a mother and son could have for one another, which was pretty good imagery for All Saints Day, given how the communion of saints is nothing more than love and hope and faith being passed down from one generation to the next.

We didn’t miss a beat. Every hymn was sung, the sermon delivered, and prayers said. I even made sure we took up an offering. The Eucharist was blessed and shared, and the benediction pronounced.

It’s an All Saints memory that, gratefully, will never leave me.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, priests say the mass daily, even if all alone. In so doing, they participate in the assurance that somewhere in the world, at any moment, the church is at prayer. I like knowing that, too.

Sparking Ministry Conversations


How does your church pray unceasingly for people in all times and places? What is the legacy your congregation is preparing now to leave for generations hence? 

About the Author
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess is executive minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries and a national officer of the church. His house in Cleveland is all gussied up for Halloween, and All Saints Day is one of his favorites on the church calendar.
Categories: Congregations Weekly

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