By Barb Arland-Fye
Arriving 40 minutes early for Christmas Eve Mass in a large suburban parish in the Twin Cities resulted in bountiful blessings and a surprise.
We found a pew close to the front of the church with room to spare for my husband Steve’s sister and her family when they arrived shortly before Mass started. The choir of children and adults engaged us in hymns and bell-ringing that lifted our spirits and made the wait pass swiftly. The pastor, a new one from the previous year, offered the warmest welcome to the 1,000-plus individuals gathered for Mass. His homily was refreshing.
But it was after the celebration of the Eucharist that the surprise occurred. After receiving Communion, giving thanks and joining the choir in song, I noticed a man with a familiar face walking up the aisle to his pew after receiving Communion. A man and a woman followed. By the time the woman passed by, I was almost certain that all three were members of a family I had been friends with since childhood. But I hadn’t seen them in years and they had belonged to the parish I’d grown up in elsewhere in St. Paul.
As soon as the closing hymn ended, I made a beeline to the back of the church and spotted the Alfvebys in a pew, getting ready to leave. “Lucy,” I called out to the woman, who looked up and smiled at me in surprise. Her husband, Jerry, and their son, Tom, smiled as we recognized one another. It turns out that Jerry and Lucy moved from their longtime home and now reside in the neighborhood of this suburban parish that my husband Steve and I call our parish away from home. Tom, who now lives in Atlanta, was home to visit his parents and other adult siblings.
The Alfvebys had been an important part of my life in childhood but even more so when I was in college, after my parents moved to Illinois and I remained in Minnesota. Jerry was a judge who helped me and a roommate deal with a legal issue concerning our apartment lease, pro bono.
Later, when an emergency situation required me to find another place to stay so that I could complete my sophomore year at the University of Minnesota, the Alfvebys took me into their home. Their children were young at the time, and they had a full house, but they made room for me until I could make more permanent living arrangements. I made little money, working part-time and going to college; they didn’t ask for a cent. They made me feel welcome and treated me as an older daughter. They are perhaps the kindest people I know.
The following year, I moved to Illinois to be closer to my parents and attend college there. I’d see the Alfvebys occasionally when I visited the Twin Cities and we exchanged Christmas cards. They attended my wedding in 1985 and I have a picture of Jerry holding my firstborn son, Colin, 23, when he was an infant. When my parents moved back to the Twin Cities after being gone for nearly a decade, they and the Alfvebys renewed their friendship.
Reflecting on my surprise encounter with the Alfvebys, I realized that I still owe a debt of gratitude to them. Their selflessness meant a great deal to me at a trying time in my life. They have always lived their faith in hospitality toward others; I hope to follow their example.