Near my childhood house in a southern suburb of Tacoma, Washington, there is a restaurant called the Quarterdeck. This was the finest dining in the area. The Quarterdeck’s exterior was decorated to look like the raised deck behind the last mast of a large sailing ship. On the inside it looked like the captain’s quarters; or at least the romanticized version of what it would look like. One day they put up a large banner on the outside. It read, “We’re the second best dining restaurant in Tacoma!” My dad liked the sign. He said it’s smart because many would argue about who is number one, but no one would question their status as number two.
There is a list of the most popular to least popular names of Episcopal Churches. On this list, Saint John’s is number two! I don’t think we should make a banner of it, but our placement on the list has made me think.
Before I get to my ruminations, here are the top five Episcopal Church names in the country. 1) Christ, 2) St. John, 3) Trinity, 4) St. Paul, 5) St. Andrew. There are 527 Christ Churches and 524 named St. John. We’re almost number one. Almost.
I’ve been wondering what it means to be named for Saint John. In the Early Church times, a congregation would name themselves for a particular saint because they had a relic from that person. It could be a scarf, a sandal, a toenail, or perhaps the whole body. As Christianity grew, there were just not enough relics to go around. So, congregations would name themselves based on a particular charism, or gift, of a saint. If a saint was known to be brave, a congregation that does a lot of evangelism work may chose that name. Or, a congregation with a strong outreach ministry may choose to name themselves after a saint that cared for the poor. What then does it mean to be named for Saint John?
As I’ve been discussing over the past few
Sunday sermons, John the Gospel writer has a particular charism or view of
Jesus. He writes in his Gospel that Jesus is one who welcomes outsiders, he goes
after the lost sheep and calls them by name, and he highlights Jesus as someone
who spiritually stands above the religious establishment of the day to seek
those who have been disaffected by religion. Since our congregation is named for
John the Gospel writer, I think we are a congregation who welcomes outsiders,
seeks those who are lost and those who have been burned (and burned out by)
religion. This is our charism – it is our gift to the community and to one
another – to help those in need and offer them hope and peace in Christ.
Our name is also in the top five of names
in the country. This makes sense in light of the Gospel writers who mentioned
Jesus’ inner posse – Peter, John, James and Andrew. When Jesus went off to pray,
or to do something way out of the ordinary, like become transfigured, he always
took a small group with him. That group usually involved John. I think this means we can proudly say, “We’re #2!”
The advantage of being number two is that we are always following number one - Christ.
We know our place and we follow in his footsteps.
Let us continue to participate in John’s charism of welcoming outsiders and seeking after those who do not know the love and peace of Christ,
- Fr. Marshall