Angels Unawares

Fourteen years ago I spent every Sunday afternoon at a piano in my home church listening to a sermon in a language I did not know. As a volunteer musician for the Gloria Dei Hispanic Mission, I depended on two years of high school Latin and a lifetime of Lutheran liturgy to get me through each Spanish-language service with the congregation of recent immigrants.

At the time posted for the service, the tight rows of chairs in the little chapel would be empty. I would flip through my music and wait for a few families to arrive so the pastor could announce the opening hymn. Later arrivals would be greeted by those already seated, who cheerfully slid over to make room for the newcomers.

Even during the Scripture readings, men in blue jeans and work boots would enter, welcomed in whispers as the signal went down the rows—move closer. No matter how many worshippers were packed into that space, they always made room for more.

On Sunday, September 16, 2001, I sat at the piano struggling to follow the pastor’s references to the “Ciudad de Nueva York” and “el terrorismo,” but the sermon was as incomprehensible as the horrifying attacks earlier that week.

After the sermon the collection basket was passed down the rows, and I dropped my folded check into the pile of crumpled bills and coins. Then a man stood up and began to speak earnestly.  Nods and murmurs ran through the congregation–“Sí, sí.”

The pastor picked up the basket and made an announcement, and this time I understood him perfectly. “We will make another collection,” he said. “We must send money to help the people of New York.”