I read this story earlier today in a church newsletter. It is well published on the Internet with no known source. I hope you enjoy it!
This is a story of a young pastor. His church was old. Long ago it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshiped there. Now the good days had passed from the sections of town where it stood. But the pastor and his wife believed in their rundown church. They felt that with paint, hammer and faith they could get it into shape. Together they went to work.
Late one December, a severe storm whipped through the river valley and the worst blow fell on the little church. A huge chunk of rain soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. The pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole. His wife despaired, “Christmas is only two days away!”
That afternoon the dispirited couple attended an auction held for a local youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out a handsome gold and ivory tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, over 4 metres long. There were a few half-hearted bids, then the pastor was seized with a great idea and he placed the winning bid of $6.50.
He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole. Its shimmering handiwork was a fine holiday glow over the presbytery. It was a triumph.
Just before noon on Christmas Eve as the pastor was opening the church he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for 40 minute,” he called and he invited her in to get warm. She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as a governess to the children of a wealthy family, but had been turned down. She was a war refugee and spoke imperfect English.
The woman sat in the pew and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory lace cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked to the steps of the chancel. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth between her fingers.
“It is mine” she said. “It is my banquet cloth.” She lifted up a corner of the cloth and showed the pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels. There could not be another like it.”
For the next few minutes, the woman and the pastor talked solemnly together. She explained that she was Viennese and that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave Austria. They went separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.
“I’ve always felt that it was my fault to leave without him. Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment...” The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the tablecloth but she refused and then she left.
As the church began to fill for Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight. After the service the pastor stood at the doorway and many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle faced middle aged man, the local clock and watch repairman looked rather puzzled.
“It is strange,” he said in his accent. “Many years ago my wife – God rest her – and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table only when the Bishop came to dinner.”
The pastor became very excited. He told the watchmaker about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled man clutched the pastor’s arm. “Can it be?” Where does she live?’
Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed the woman. Than in the pastor’s car they started for the city. And on Christmas Day, this man and his wife who had been separated so many years were reunited.
To all who have heard this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now clear. People said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season for it!