The Church of Baseball

By Heidi Shott

On Friday afternoon my family and I make the three-hour trip to Fenway Park. As always, we stop at the Kennebunkport rest stop so my husband Scott, who would sooner jump into a leech-infested lake than get behind the wheel in Boston, can hand over the keys. Before long we find our worn, wooden seats along the third baseline and settle in for the evening.

As we munch our Fenway franks, sip our Sam Adams and juggle our stuff every few minutes to allow someone in or out, we let the pleasure of being at Fenway again sink into our bones.

“Welcome to America’s best-loved ballpark!”

What I find telling is that the announcer, in greeting the crowd, doesn’t say, “Welcome to the home of America’s best-loved ball team.” Fenway Park, and the game that’s been played there for 95 seasons, is what New England fans love. Except for the nasty year of the strike, fans have trusted that a bunch of guys wearing Red Sox jerseys will take to the field at 7:05 p.m. and play baseball.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not always the same bunch of guys. Sure, we have our saints…down in the box in front of us I spy an old duffer wearing a Carlton Fisk jersey…and last year I saw a sad-looking woolen Yastrzemski jersey on a fellow whose face looked like he’d never quite gotten over Bucky Dent’s homer or the horror of watching the ball go between Bill Buckner’s legs. I’m not quite over them myself.

When I left the staff of the Diocese of Maine last year to downshift to a consulting role, our Canon to the Ordinary – to make me feel rotten – started addressing me as Pedro and signing her emails as Manny, a nod to Pedro Martinez’s departure to the Mets and the loss felt by his friend and countryman Manny Ramirez still in Boston. Players come and players go, but we fans love the game and we love the Red Sox beyond the individuals, even when they’re stars like Pedro or Nomar. It’s the game, it’s the team, it’s the park…and somehow the magic works even if you’ve never seen a game at Fenway.

With the Red Sox seven games ahead of both the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, whom we’re playing, I luxuriate in being able to enjoy the game without feeling like every pitch matters. Our American League East lead slows everything down. There is no rush; there is no pressure. The pleasure of being in the park on a lovely Spring evening with my husband and sons and with no drunken fans in close proximity is a gift. We lose, 6-3, our boys can’t hit the ball worth beans and the terrific fielding of the Orioles’ shortstop nixes a few promising opportunities. But so what? We’re in it for the long haul, both the 2007 season and for the rest of our lives.

One gorgeous spring morning nine years ago I sat on a hard pew in the nave of St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, Maine. A priest from Chicago named Chilton Knudsen was about to be consecrated Bishop. As one of our retired bishops passed the row in the processional, my neighbor, whom I’d met a few minutes before, whispered, “That’s my bishop.”

“What? Are you nuts?” I wanted to hiss back. “You can muster loyalty to only one bishop over the course of your whole life? Give her a chance! She doesn’t even have the mitre on her head yet and you already prefer a bishop who retired 13 years ago?”

That comment still worries me because the future of Christendom, specifically our Anglican brand, cannot depend on superstars or even supervillains. It should not depend on individuals at any level. The Body of Christ depends on people coming in and sitting on the same worn, wooden seats every Sunday – seats, like those at Fenway, that have borne witness to moments of profound joy and deep sadness; good singing and bad singing; restless children and restless souls.

As years pass, the priests, the altar guild ladies, the choir members, the acolytes and even the bishops enter and depart. The Church depends on our enduring and often exhausting faithfulness to Christ’s charge to love God with all of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls and to love those we encounter with the great passion and intensity we usually reserve for our lovers and our children and ourselves.

The demands of really living this kind of life…of really doing the work of the Gospel day in and day out… rarely allow us to luxuriate in the mystery of the liturgy or the beauty of the prayerbook language. How important it is to remember what a rare and magnificent thing it is to be a part of a vast and loving community that existed long before us and will extend far beyond us. If only we could keep such a vision before us.

At Fenway Park, that kind of crazy thinking is what makes the people over in the left field bleachers start a wave.

What could it do in the Episcopal Church? It’s impossible to say.

Heidi Shott is communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.


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