Finding My Sheep
In this post-- Heather reminisces about the special experience of celebrating Easter with Dr. Bob during her childhood. She wrote this last year and we missed getting it posted. Since Easter won't be quite the same for many of our families we wanted to share this transformative part of her spiritual development then and now.
Growing up, I attended Prairie Village Presbyterian church in Prairie Village, Kansas. Our family’s attendance was pretty regular until my adolescence. My family became involved in other things that kept us busy on Saturday nights and so we attended church far less. Even so, we still attended every Easter.
Those Easter services are vivid memories for me. What I looked forward to each year was the moment when Dr. Bob Meneilly would appear holding a live sheep. Now you may think of the “Lamb of God” as calm and gentle, but when Dr. Bob held the selected sheep each year it was clear to me that Jesus was alive in Dr. Bob, as well as in the sheep. As we all watched with delight the sheep would struggle making the congregation laugh and reminding us just how alive and present God really is.
As young adults do, I moved away from home for school and went to other churches to explore my faith. I carried with me the thought that church could be an important place where people accept that even a baby lamb belongs right up front. Dr. Bob not only welcomed sheep but he welcomed anyone to church. Throughout his 47 years from 1949-1995 at Prairie Village Presbyterian he delivered sermons that were progressive for the times, speaking on topics such as race relations, sexuality, religion, and war.
It took me awhile to find a home after being a parishioner at his church. I realized I was comparing other ministers to him as I visited lots of churches and went to many Easter services. I kept looking for the "sheep."
I grew spiritually over the years. I practiced contemplative prayer with Father Keating in Denver at the Center for Contempletive Living. However, I still didn’t have a church home. I identified with those who call themselves spiritual but not religious. It was only when a friend pointed out to me that to grow in one’s faith it is necessary to practice it that I realized I was feeling called to find a place I could live out my faith. I tried a few places and finally arrived at a church with an extravagant welcome. I’ve been attending regularly there now for close to 5 years. Last year, I told my minister that for many years I only attended church on Easter. He found that funny since now I am at church anywhere from 3 or 4 times a week for various activities.
As I look forward to Easter, I remember a man who made church special for me and created a memory that helped ground me in a welcoming view of God and Jesus. I believe that love is the significant principle of faith. I’m grateful to Dr. Bob and to my parents for allowing me such wonderful early experiences that I sought out similar ones later as an adult. This year, like every year, I’ll be thinking of him and the sheep. I’ll not likely ever meet another man like him, but I have found others who show me what love looks like. Sometimes I see a glimpse of “the sheep” and what it meant for me, especially when I am reminded by the sermon that God is still alive, in the people who serve him, sitting next to me in church.