Chaos theory developed in recent years as a way to come to terms with unexpected complexities in the natural order. That order seemed random and unpredictable the farther into it and the closer looks scientists were able to take observing how this world held together.
Even so, bit by bit certain patterns were recognized after all, some so strange as to seem almost magical. One such pattern, named by Edward Lorenz, came to be known as the Butterfly Effect. He observed that minute differences in an initial condition would lead to dramatically different outcomes. The principle was illustrated by saying that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world could set in motion ripples in the air that could culminate later in a hurricane somewhere else. It was a domino effect that grew larger as it proceeded. But the initial movement, the flapping of the butterfly’s wings, could be so small they were easy to miss, sometimes impossible to trace or measure.
The Lord recently gave me a glimpse of one butterfly effect that I had triggered in my life.
A lay eucharistic visitor who takes Holy Communion to sick and housebound folks mentioned the name of a new person he had gone to see a couple of weeks ago. I recognized the name as that of an old friend (also named Rick). My LEV friend asked if I wanted to go with him on his next visit. He was willing to push me in a wheelchair through the long halls of the facility where my old friend Rick lay dying. I decided to make the effort in spite of my stroke-shriveled condition. The next week I went ahead and put on my shirt and ministerial collar for the first time in several weeks and my LEV friend came by our house to pick me up.
My old friend Rick was asleep when we got to his room.
A young man, one of his grandsons, was at the bedside. He said Rick’s wife had stepped away and would soon return. So we waited quietly. I rolled my chair farther into the room so I wouldn’t block the doorway. After about ten minutes, I murmured to my LEV friend that we should just pray a blessing and go. Back when I was mobile and made such visits myself the rule was to not disturb anyone we found sleeping since that is hard to do in such interruption-laden environments! I quietly began a prayer for peace and comfort for Rick.
When I again opened my eyes I saw Rick’s wife standing in the doorway. And Rick himself had now opened his eyes. The LEV gathered us by Rick’s bed and led us through the Holy Communion liturgy.
Afterwards, Rick’s wife talked with us. She reminded me of some minor details of our history from over three decades ago that I had forgotten. What I remembered was that Rick and his family had been involved at the Episcopal church where I later became a deacon. Rick’s wife told me I was the one who had suggested they check out the parish way back before I went to it myself. She recalled butterfly wings waving. Here is the story.
In 1978, Melanie and I came to Lakeland, Florida. I had been hired as program director for a Christian radio station operated by the First Assembly of God church in town. Part of my job was to carry out public relations for the radio station with other churches in the area. I was a member of this local A/G church but was being paid to attend services at other churches on Sundays! This itself was an interesting answer to a question I had been pondering for many years in my heart. I was raised in the Assemblies (so was my wife) but I had begun to wonder how other church groups that claimed to be Christian could do so while “doing church” so differently from what I was used to. Now I would be paid to find out! Each week I visited a new church across the theological spectrum. I began to identify the things we had in common: Jesus Christ as Savior, the Bible, many familiar hymns.
One day, a charismatic Episcopal priest-evangelist came to visit me in my radio station office (located inside the Assembly of God church building). Fr. Phil was interested in doing a radio program. (I ended up being his announcer, helping tape the program for several years.) He invited me to visit the healing liturgy he conducted each week in St. Mary’s chapel at the Episcopal church just down the street where he was an associate to the rector. I soon did so. It was the first time I saw “the way Episcopalians do it” (by the Book… of Common Prayer!).
Sometime after I met Fr. Phil, as I continued visiting churches, I dropped by a small Presbyterian church on a Sunday morning. In the church bulletin I noticed there was a small home prayer group that met during the week. I decided my public relations assignment from the radio station would justify a visit there, too. My wife and I began attending.
We met Rick and his wife there at this home prayer group. I learned that Rick and Frank, in whose home the prayer group met, had begun getting together between Sunday morning services at their Presbyterian church, to pray for the services and the pastor. I decided to stop by and join them briefly any time I was on my way to visit churches nearby.
I soon learned one reason they were meeting for prayer like that.
In my church visiting, I had come to realize that even churches that had Bibles in the pews sometimes had a preacher in the pulpit who was skeptical or disinterested in it. The pastor of this small Presbyterian church was like that. It bothered Rick and Frank.
Soon Rick brought it up as a prayer request to the home group. He and his wife were ready to find another church home for their family, where orthodox Christian faith was upheld.
Rick and his wife were charismatic Christians. We prayed for healings in the home group gathering and saw them. Of course, the Assemblies of God was known for expecting such miracles for believers today. And I was in the biggest A/G church in town, a church growing every year because of such Spirit-filled testimonies.
But I suspected Rick would be looking for something a bit quieter than the exuberant services at my church. And I remembered my new encounter with Fr. Phil, the charismatic Episcopal priest.
“Why not check them out?” I suggested.
They did. They liked it and stayed. And when Frank took a new job in Connecticut and moved his family away, the home prayer group moved to Rick’s home. Soon I was meeting other people from the Episcopal church who had also begun attending it.
The time came when Melanie and I also left town, for a new job building a Christian radio station in Illinois. Our contact with Rick and his wife back here in Lakeland became mostly one of annual Christmas cards. We did not return to Florida until the late 1980’s.
Melanie and I had been stirred by our visits over the years to other churches. To our own surprise, we had both felt drawn to the holy reverence of liturgical worship in Catholic and Episcopal churches. We began seriously visiting the beautiful Episcopal church where Fr. Phil had once served. The rector he had served under had also moved on.
The new rector, Fr. Al, welcomed us whenever we showed up and never pressured us. But Fr. Al did find occasion to eventually suggest that I volunteer to be a chalice bearer at the altar. When he suggested I stand for the vestry it came out that I had not been formally confirmed in the Episcopal church. So Melanie and I joined the next class. We attended it with the daughter of a new associate rector Fr. Al had brought on, the one who eventually succeeded Fr. Al after his retirement as the longest serving rector of the 130-year old parish. And I eventually became a deacon, Fr. Al’s last one at the parish.
But I must go back to those butterfly wings I mentioned. In the nursing care room where Rick lay dying, his wife mentioned a detail I had not known. I had heard that the senior Episcopal rector way back then, at the time I had first suggested the church to Rick, had been required to leave finally after some misbehavior. And I knew that after Rick and his family had attended for several years he had been elected to the vestry and been named Junior Warden for the parish. From that place of responsibility he had learned of the rector’s wrongdoing and forced the issue so it could not be ignored. The rector left. That opened the way for Fr. Al to be called, with all the fruitful years of ministry that followed in the next quarter century. All I did one day was suggest that Rick visit and see if they liked the church. I didn’t even attend myself at the time. But I have seen a hurricane of blessings that God had to pour out once the dominoes moved.
One more gust of wind to report. Rick and his family had, over the years, moved on to other parishes where they continued participating and serving in the life of local churches. When Rick got sick, his wife called on their old parish home, since we were near Rick’s nursing home, asking for someone to bring Holy Communion. No one in the church office recognized their name. The new rector, of course, had never heard of them. But my LEV friend asked for permission to respond and the rector consented. And I heard about it.
The visit became the first time I had ever shared in Holy Communion with Rick and his wife. It will also be the last for awhile. Rick died two days later.
Over the weekend, I suddenly realized something about Rick’s grandson, the one I had seen standing by Rick’s bed. This young man’s grandmother had been in Sunday school classes I taught in the Episcopal church I had sent Rick to. Rick’s daughter had met and married her husband at that church years ago. The breeze from those butterfly wings keeps blowing. The young man had no idea he was there partly because of something I did years ago. Just as the new rector had no idea that when that call for communion came it was from someone who played a distant part in him being where he was now.
The day after my visit to Rick, the day before he died, the weekly prayer group that Melanie and I host met in our home.
Laurel brought along a kneeling cushion that she has been stitching for the church altar for two years. There are hundreds and hundreds of small woven threads, carefully and tediously sewed over hundreds of hours. I asked Laurel if she had sewed her initials into the cushion, so we could know who to thank. Laurel still knows how to blush. There was no need for that, she told me, embarrassed that I would even ask.
So the cushion will lay on the steps before the altar of the Lord anonymously, for years to come. Each small thread will make its contribution. Because each one was carefully placed in order, none will draw any attention to itself, away from the whole, distracting away from the purpose for which it was called: to enable and support the prayers and praises to the Lord Jesus Christ being offered to glorify his name.