I shared this story at the lunchtime Carol Service at Saint Mary Magdalen, Billericay on Wednesday 14 December 2022. I first read this in a magazine a few years ago. It was first published in Reader’s Digest in 1954 by Rev. Howard C. Schade.
A pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, reopened a church in suburban Brooklyn, New York. Excitedly arriving in early October, they saw the opportunities to accomplish something good before them. When they first laid eyes upon the church, they found it to be very run down and in need of much work. They set a goal, though, to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.
They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc., and on Dec 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished. On December 19th a terrible tempest hit the area, lasting two days.
On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high. The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home. On the way he noticed a local business having a flea market type sale for charity so he stopped in.
One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory coloured, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colours and a Cross embroidered right in the centre. It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church. By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.
Then he noticed the woman walking down the centre aisle. Her face was like a sheet. “Pastor,” she said, “where did you get that tablecloth?” The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. To his astonishment, he found that they were.
These being the initials of the woman. She had made this tablecloth many years years before, in Austria. The woman could hardly believe it, for the pastor told how he had just acquired the tablecloth.
The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. She was captured, sent to prison and she never saw her husband or her home again.
The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home, that was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.
What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return.
One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighbourhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare at the Tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to the one that his wife had made many years ago in Austria before the war and how could there be two Tablecloths so much alike?
He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again all those years in between.
The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.