One of today’s lectionary readings is Psalm 117. Which reminds me of a story.
It was our first day in San Francisco, earlier this month, and there was a heatwave: over 100 degrees and humid. We had already done some walking in the afternoon sun, but for reasons that made sense at the time, we decided to get Irish coffee at The Buena Vista anyway. There was no A/C there or anywhere. And so, of course, we set out on foot again, up Hyde Street toward the needlessly crooked Lombard. Without water.
Before long, we realized our folly. We weren’t even halfway up Russian Hill. We debated hailing an Uber and going somewhere, anywhere we could do something other than walk up a steep hill in this weather for no good reason. But then, like travelers coming upon an oasis in the desert, we saw a Norwegian flag blowing in the wind. From across the street I saw a couple of fellow weary wanderers make their way inside, so I followed them in while Katie took a seat on a shaded corner of the front steps.
It was a church: the Norwegian Seaman’s Church. A caretaker kindly offered juice and water in exchange for a recommended $5 donation apiece – which seemed a bargain, given the circumstances. While hydrating and wiping away the sweat, we learned about the church’s origins as a haven for homesick Norwegian sailors, where they would catch up on the news from home, eat familiar food, and worship in their native language. It is part of an international network of churches for Norwegian sojourners. I wondered if any of my own ancestors from Stavanger had found themselves reading Norwegian newspapers in faraway churches. It made me smile to think they had.
Downstairs, in the sanctuary (where it was just barely cooler), the Bible lay open to Psalm 117: “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”