I am now working as the director of student ministries at an amazing church in Lancaster, PA. Shortly after my arrival I was informed of the age old tradition of painting the church windows that face out onto Orange Street that runs into the heart of the city. The janitor took me down into the walk-in safe tucked away in the bowels of the church. There, from amongst the piles of old records and files he procured a slew of window stencils rolled up together looking like an oversized scroll. The paper was beginning to yellow and tear around the edges from years of use. Tiny black numbers covered the scrolls letting you know what color each section should be painted. The windows were a giant paint by numbers undertaking done the same way every single year.
I certainly felt the pressure to get the windows painted perfectly even though I had barely been on the job for a week and had a million other things running through my mind. So I found myself on a Sunday morning surrounded by my youth group with boxes brimming with old paint bottles, sponge brushes and stained paint cups. We all stood staring trying to make sense of the massive stencils laid out on the carpeted floor in front of us. Folks from the different services were walking all around us watching as we began to pout paint and splash color onto the windows.
Then it happened. We realized that half of the paints were dried up or empty and suddenly our paint by numbers approach was going to be a gigantic failure. So in that glorious moment we made a world altering decision. We broke from over 30 years of tradition and we kissed the numbers goodbye. We improvised. We dared to paint angels like the church windows had never seen before.
As our angels slowly came to life we came to a pivotal moment. For decades white angels had stared out at the world walking by, which was fitting for our predominantly white Presbyterian congregation. But this year as the wings and flowing robes were filled in we decided to do something different. We painted black angels.
As I watched the brown paint dry I felt my soul soar. I could hear the angelic choir singing led by our two black angels. The glory of heaven filled the foyer flooding in through the windows with brilliant gold light.
To most people they were probably just black angels, but to me they were prophetic angels. Angels that celebrated the beautiful diversity of the body of Christ. Angels that said, “this church is more than a club for white people.” Angels that proclaimed the good news of Jesus for all people and cultures. Angels that dared to break away from the paint by numbers, play life safely mentality. Angels that invite and break down barriers of class and race that we humans so often erect. Every day those angels bring a smile to my face because they are a sign of hope; A foreshadowing of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Hark the Herald angels sing, and this year at First Presbyterian Church those angels are black. Thanks be to God.