They are the ones who teach we priests, parsons and pastors more than we could teach a whole congregation.
One of those great and wonderful parishioners recently celebrated her 90th birthday.
Here is what I wrote her
"L... very kindly sent me an invitation to the celebration of your birthday. As it happened I was in Maine on that day, and I had every intention to call you at your party.
I failed in that good intention. So now I send you these words".
"It is not particularly wonderful to live for ninety years. Any fool can do that!
But what is so utterly splendid is the way in which you have lived those years.
You have been a child, a sister, a teacher, and an encourager of many.
You have been a devoted disciple of Jesus, and have lived out that discipleship in the church and in the world.
You have made your various homes to be centres of hospitality – with good food, much laughter, and engaging conversations.
You have enabled the greatest of beauty to shine out in some many people who did not know of their beauty until you opened their eyes.
You have been a wise counselor to many students, friends, and otherwise dull Priests!
You have been ahead of your time in the ways in which you have called our world to justice and peace.
You have been Christ to others.
So, I salute you a little bit for living for ninety years. That's the easy part.
But I send a verbal Twenty One Gun Salute for who you have been in those years, and will be in the years to come. That's where it gets tough.
Who you have been eclipses what you have done!