All Saints’ Day is an important time to thank God for all those people who impacted our lives in our faith development. I will never forget those men who gathered outside our Christian Education Building each Sunday before Sunday School began. They became my confidants, enquiring about such things as an exam about which I had expressed anxiety, or a track meet in which I had participated, or my plans for the holidays or summer vacation, or my thoughts about colleges after graduation from high school.
In a very real sense, they became surrogate parent figures in my life, and made me feel God’s love and acceptance as they took seriously my thoughts and feelings. I felt and experienced what the New Testament calls “koinonia,” defined as “the intimate bond of fellowship which unites Christians,” which played a significant role as to why I entered the ministry.
Then, there was the Senior High Sunday School leader, the director of Christian education, the pastors (not always the senior ones), the mother of one of my friends – all of whom helped me mature in my faith as they let God’s word become “flesh” – what we called in seminary “incarnational theology.” Of course, that is what God wants all local congregations to be i.e., living examples of God’s love, forgiveness, patience, forebearance, peace, etc.
Therefore, All Saints’ Day is not only a time to remember, but celebrate all of the awesome people whom God has allowed to become a part of our lives so that we might become better able to serve God as he wants us to do.
I also believe there is another aspect of our faith development we need to celebrate on this day: all of the providential events God has allowed to take place in the past to protect, to get us back on the right track or strengthen our faith and cause us to grow spiritually. For me, it was the traumatic move at the crucial age of 13 from Mobile to Birmingham, Ala. Then it was the fact I attended Georgia Tech, majoring and graduating in chemical engineering, rather than a liberal arts college and studying liberal arts courses. Still another strange twist of providence was God giving me the gift of being able to express myself in writing.
Similar to the story of Joseph and Moses in the Bible, God’s providence worked behind the scenes of my secular history and day-to-day events in my life. There have been people, crises, conflicts, rebellions, etc. in my life that have played decisive roles in shaping and preparing me to be most useful in God’s service. God has protected me when I acted impulsively, dangerously, stubbornly. I have told my children and grandchildren about the times when I was associating with crazy friends who almost caused my death, and how it is most important to choose one’s friends carefully. Sometimes we need to change friends with whom we are spending time.
Therefore, when we gather to celebrate All Saints’ Day in our congregations, let us thank God for the good people who have impacted our lives and also thank God also for all of his providential interventions in our faith development.
The. Rev. (Dr.) Gene Norris is a local Presbyterian pastor.