When I began this blog, I gave myself permission to wander footloose through the playground of immunity. No restraints, no bondage to a common theme…just finding some peace on the swings, some jazz played on the carousel, and the grace of just sitting in the grass for awhile.

Where I live there are six “merry-go-rounds,” all built by the  Alan Herschell Companies between 1920 and 1934. All are within, say, 12 miles of each other, each anchoring a neighborhood park. All are listed on “historic registers” and all continue to operate. Two still have their original Wurlitzer Band Organs to accompany whirling riders. The parks and carousels were gifts to the shoe workers who populated the local communities from the 1920’s into the 1960’s. When George F. Johnson’s shoe manufacturing plants closed down, the local municipalities took over the parks, but one policy remained intact. And that is the “grace” thing in this story.

Johnson wanted no one left out of the fun. Or, off the merry-go-rounds. So admission to the rides was free. And to this day, there is no charge to ride the carousels…except a piece of litter. (If the park grounds were pristine and no litter was around, no one is denied a ride!) Not many things are free these days. And I’m sure those machines require upkeep. The attendants are paid. I worry about what the declining economy may mean for that decades-old policy. But so far, Johnson’s directive stands:  every child of every age who wants to ride can.

Grace. Made possible by someone’s hard work and generosity.

Now when I think about grace I also remember something that happened in a nursing home a few years ago. All those little kids who played so carefree in backyards and parks and school yards grew up, and grew very old, and grew very vulnerable. And some of them found themselves in a community of nursing home residents. I was in their midst every Thursday afternoon to lead a short worship service. Now and then that occasion became a memorial service for a resident who had recently died.

I learned early on in my ministry that the most familiar psalms, creeds, and prayers can disappear from memory when one stands before any group of worshippers. No matter how deep one’s experience, it’s best to have everything in writing, even the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and the Apostles’ Creed. When I was on Presbytery staff many years ago, I was guest-preacher in many a pulpit,
and I found evidence that even the most seasoned preacher relied on printed copies of Christendom’s most familiar and well-loved words. Crib sheets were glued into pulpit hymnals and taped to lecterns, lest the mind wandered as the words rolled off the tongue.

So, I keep the words before me at all times when leading worship. Except for that  memorial service at the local nursing home. It came time to lead the 23rd Psalm. I wisely had my Bible ready. I introduced the beloved psalm and invited the roomful of mourners to join me in reciting it in unison.  As they looked at me trustingly, I opened my Bible to the 123rd Psalm. Ooops. I was a hundred psalms off! Now what? Flustered, I did have the presence of mind to begin with the right words. “The Lord is my shepherd…” But would this addled preacher remember any more than that?

In the front row of chairs sat Laura, a lovely woman in her 80’s whose Alzheimer’s Disease keeps her from remembering that her mother will not be picking her up after school today. With my five word cue, Laura said quietly, “I shall not want.” And I said more loudly for the others to hear, “I shall not want.” Laura said, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” And I repeated it for all to hear. Line by line, Laura deepest memory cued me, and I simply followed her lead through the rest of the Psalm. Amazing grace!

I love and live for those moments when grace saves us, reminds us, and moves us. It is both free and liberating. For children of all ages.

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