When I was in college, the priest at Prophet Elias was Fr. Andrew Mahalares. He was a pretty nice guy but, well, maybe a bit too pragmatic in his approach to a 2,000-year old religion.
One Spring day in 1985, my parents, sister and I were getting ready to head to church when the phone rang and my parents' best friends suggested they go golfing. In a New York minute, they were into their golf attire and out the door - leaving Sandy and me to head to church alone.
Apparently, similar calls went out to a lot of other folks that morning because there weren't a whole lot of people in church that day.
Of course Fr. Andrew noticed his diminished congregation, and he addressed the situation in his homily. He acknowledged that after a long, cold Utah winter during these first warm days of Spring it was tempting to skip church. He opined if a person says he or she is going to be with God on Sunday but goes, say, golfing instead that is a sin. (Sandy discretely elbowed me upon hearing that!) But, he continued, if you say you're going to be with God and go golfing AND thank God for the warm weather, rejoice in the fellowship of your friends and are grateful for the beauty of nature then you didn't need to be in church that day!
A lot of our fellow parishioners missed Father's point. It may have been just too pragmatic for them. Indeed it wasn't too much longer after that day that he was transferred to another parish.
But Sandy and I understood what he meant. If God is everywhere then He can be worshipped anywhere - not just at a church.
Over the past quarter of a century, I've recalled that homily several times, invoked the Fr. Andrew Amendment and skipped church to go to a ball game, hiking, or even to watch football on TV.
And I did so again yesterday. Rather than worship at Prophet Elias, our family worshipped at Lindsey Gardens Park - half a block from our house. And we were thankful for the snow, we rejoiced in the fellowship of our family, and we were grateful for the sound of children's laughter as we sled down the hillsides.
Don't get me wrong: The Fr. Andrew Amendment must be used judiciously and infrequently. Next Sunday we'll be back in our pew again.
I think when the boys grow up, they'll remember their years at Prophet Elias fondly. I hope the priests, Sunday School teachers and their dad can instill in them the deep faith we all share. I hope they look at their Orthodox Christianity as a blessing. But I also hope they remember that now and then we worshipped God by sledding down a snow-covered hillside!