I presided at my first ever house blessing last weekend, after church. A member of my congregation contacted me and asked if I would come out sometime in June and bless her home, and all of the rooms. She said that a former pastor had done it for her once, many years ago. This time she wanted her house blessed because it had been damaged in the hurricane last August. They had spent the past nine months repairing and painting and decorating: just she and her son, and a few of his friends. It wasn't quite done, but she felt that it was time to celebrate their hard work. It was time to celebrate her home.
I did not grow up hearing about a custom called "House Blessings". We didn't study it in seminary either. But somewhere in the past few years, something must have made me curious, because I have a distinct memory of googling "house blessings", and of asking a friend of mine who is Episcopalian to send me a copy of a house blessing from his Occasional Services Book. I kept that for a long time. Perhaps I just wanted to be ready, just in case someone asked me.
So when this woman called me, I was eager to come. And I discovered that my denomination's new Occasional Services Book now had an order for the Blessing of a Dwelling. I asked my church member if I needed to bring anything. "No," she said, "but bring a few people from the church. I want to celebrate with them." I told he that the service called for the lighting of a candle. She said that she would purchase one.
She also told me that she would serve us a special meal at the close of the blessing.
I checked my Occasional Services Book, and guess what? The order of worship says that "a meal may be shared."
I had never been to this woman's house before. So, on the day of the blessing, I turned on my trusty GPS and we set out. It was not far, but the house was off the beaten path. We turned on a couple of gravel roads. I was afraid I might be lost, but I was not.
The house was modest and beautiful, each room painted in bright colors. Everything said "celebration" to me. There were friends from the church, and a friend of her teenage daughter. We discussed briefly which rooms she wanted me to bless. At the right time, I stood in the middle of the living area, and we lit the candle and began. We took the candle from room to room, reading scripture and praying in each area: the entrance, the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, the place where pets were kept. There was even a special scripture and prayer for a teenager's room. I asked her daughter which Scripture verse she wanted me to use (there were two choices). She chose this one:
"It is in vain to raise so early and go to bed so late. You, Lord, give sleep to your beloved." (Psalm 127:2)
Near the end, there was a suggestion for everyone to remember the promise given to them in baptism, to serve everywhere in Christ's name. And the rubrics said, "Water may be sprinkled on the people in thanksgiving for the gift of baptism." I wasn't sure what to do, but it seemed like a good idea.
Her teenage daughter said "Wait a minute," and came out with a water bottle. I sprayed everyone's hands with the water bottle, and we laughed.
Then we prayed the Lord's prayer, and we sat down to the feast prepared for us.
It was my first house blessing.
And I was blessed.
I think how at the end of the service at church I give the benediction: the blessing. Why should it stop there? Why shouldn't it extend into homes and neighborhoods, among friends and neighbors, along gravel roads and at meals, and where people are weeping and where people are rejoicing? Why shouldn't it extend even farther out, beyond the boundaries to the outcasts and the hungry and the lonely and the desperate?
We have forgotten our mission. It is blessing.