May 1, 2024 - 11:50am

NIghtwatch - A Reflection

NIghtwatch - A Reflection

When I was in sixth grade, my mom found out about a program called Nightwatch in New York led by Rev. Wes Wubbenhorst. My mom asked if I wanted to go. I was nervous; at eleven years old, I would be one of the youngest participants, and the only people I would know were my mom and Rev. Wes, but I thought going to New York City sounded exciting so I agreed.

All the lights were off as we entered the Cathedral of St. John the Divine from the basement. I remember my awe when the lights came on revealing the massive space and the organ of the cathedral echoed throughout the huge space.

We walked forward through the nave and settled into the decoratively carved wooden chairs of the choir seats, and we listened to the organist play and teach us about the cathedral. At that moment, I felt safe and warm despite the cold draft. I felt awe and reverence for the space and the music, feelings I did not often feel when I was eleven. I felt at peace. I think a piece of me fell in love with the cathedral at that moment. I felt all the feelings I now associate with God's presence, although at the time I didn't have a name for it.

Throughout the night as I explored the chapels and participated in workshops, I became more curious about the space and the bible passages we were reading. I grew up attending Sunday school, learning about Jesus and the parables, but I had never desired to engage with the gospel outside of church.

At the end of the night, we were released for a silent, individual meditation. We wandered the cathedral in the dark and prayed with a candle. I returned to the choir seats I had sat in earlier and stared at the carvings in the candlelight, and I remember praying that I could come back.

After that first year, I felt I had a deeper understanding of faith, and I wanted desperately to be closer to God, to replicate that feeling I felt throughout the night.

I attended Nightwatch every year I was eligible as a youth. Sixth grade to twelfth grade. Seven years. I remember feeling a little bit heartbroken my last year when it was unclear if I would ever return to St. John the Divine, the place where I met God.

This year I was encouraged by Kate Riley (who took over Nightwatch when Wes died in 2016) to attend as an adult chaperone because I was no longer away at college and she knew how deeply I had loved Nightwatch as a youth. I jumped at the opportunity.

Walking back into that cathedral felt like coming home after being away for a long time.

Getting to watch the youth engage with the space and the workshops warmed my heart, and I prayed that it would change them as it had changed me.

During the candlelit meditation, I returned to the choir seats where I first sat twelve years earlier and I reflected on how the cathedral had seen me grow up. I prayed, and I felt at peace. I said to God the words "This is where I first met you. I have come home to you."

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the first place I truly felt that I knew God. God put me there, and he brought me back. Whenever I am in that space, I feel like I leave with a little more understanding.

The love I have for the cathedral, and the gratitude I have for its staff and the Nightwatch staff is more than I can put into words. Nightwatch had such a deep impact on me and my relationship with God.

Leaving the cathedral this time didn't break my heart like it did when I was eighteen. I know that I will return to St. John the Divine, and I am sure that when I do, I will meet God in new and beautiful ways.

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