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Walking Our Faith: No shirt, no shoes, no service

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Walking Our Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Every night at 5, Adrienne and Jim Sielaff would sit together in their living room and pray.

Jim had lived with a crippling illness for years, and you would think they would have spent their last evenings together praying for Jim. I’m certain they did. However, what Adrienne told me was the long list of other people they prayed for each evening, as well. I know this because Adrienne told me I was on that list.  

On their last evening together, they had finished their prayers, and Adrienne asked Jim if he would like some ice cream. Jim said, “yes,” and as she stood to go into the kitchen, Jim said, “Stand up straight and look beautiful,” as he did every evening. When Adrienne returned from the kitchen with their ice cream, Jim was still sitting in his chair, but his spirit had flown to the embrace of Jesus.

I had the honor of reading a passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-5 at Jim’s funeral Mass last Saturday morning. If that passage sounds familiar, it is because it is the famous Bible passage about love that is read at almost every church wedding.

It is not, to my knowledge, read at many funerals. Yet it was the perfect passage to memorialize the 50-year marriage of enduring love and respect between Adrienne and Jim. 

This was the message that deacon Jim used eloquently in his homily to convey a love between two people so overflowing that they had more than enough to share every night as they prayed for others.

I write often of the parable of the good Samaritan who stopped to help an injured stranger. The Samaritan not only stayed to tend the wounds, but also took him to a local inn and paid for the injured man to be cared for. It is one of my favorite parables of Jesus’ many parables because it speaks of our call to put faith into action.

It’s easy to say we love Jesus and leave it at that. It is so much more difficult to live by the example Jesus taught through parables and, ultimately, his own life.

I spent the first 18 years of my life living in south Florida about a mile from the beach. In a seaside town, it is not uncommon to see on doors of restaurants and shops a sign that reads, “no shirt, no shoes, no service.”

Amazingly, people comply with this simple request. Nobody suggests that wearing shoes or a shirt in public impinges on their personal freedom. We take it for granted that these are agreed-upon rules in our society, that we cover our chest and feet when we go about our business in public.

Which is why I am unable to understand why some of the good people of the United States of America will happily wear shoes and a shirt yet are unwilling to wear a simple cloth mask over their mouth and nose to help their community tamp down a pandemic that has now caused the deaths of nearly a quarter-million of their fellow Americans.

Most disheartening has been church services filled with good souls who seek medical attention when they are sick yet ignore the pleas of doctors to wear a cloth mask and to sit or stand 6 feet apart while worshipping together.

I assure you, we are no closer to God when sitting too close to our neighbor in a pew. Our praise and worship is heard by God just as well when our mouth is covered by a mask as when it is not.

If you don’t believe me or the doctors, at least believe what Jesus Christ said when he said we should love one another as we want to be loved and care for our neighbors as Christ cared for us.

Wearing a mask and sitting every other pew is not an infringement on our religious liberty. Local governments have asked every public establishment to abide by the same rules for distancing. It’s a matter of science, not religion.

To comply might mean conducting smaller services (and maybe more than one a week) to accommodate fewer people sitting 6 feet apart and wearing masks throughout the service.

For example, at my church, St. Mary’s and Our Lady of Peace, Mass is limited to 50 people sitting every other pew and 6 feet apart. Our beloved priests provide at least five Masses a week to accommodate everyone. Other churches are doing a combination of in-person and online services.

Recent scientific studies have revealed that wearing a mask not only protects you, it also protects those around you. That means my mother with congestive heart failure or your child with asthma will be protected when you choose to value the health of your neighbor.

When Jesus asked us to love one another, it wasn’t with words alone. It was in the day-to-day respect shown by simple acts of kindness. Yes, like wearing a mask because you care about your neighbor, as you hope they care about you.

Adrienne and Jim Sielaff didn’t have to spend their last weeks together praying for other people. But they did because they lived the teachings of Christ in the most authentic way. I hope we will learn from their example. I hope that in this most dire time, we learn to love one another not only in words, but also in deeds.

Please walk your faith and wear your mask.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com.


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