Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Gold Tablecloth

Excerpted from Reader's Digest, December 1954 
By Rev. Howard C. Schade

A young pastor & his wife came to serve in a very old church that had once flourished with many members. It was now run down, in awful shape & worse yet, in late December a severe storm blew in, ripping a huge piece of rain soaked plaster from the inside wall behind the altar, just two days before Christmas.

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended a benefit auction for a youth group. At one point the auctioneer opened an old box & shook out a gold tablecloth that looked to be nearly fifteen feet long! The pastor had the winning bid of $6.50 & brought it back to the church, tacking it up to cover the hole behind the altar.

Just before noon on Christmas Eve, the pastor noticed a woman standing in the cold across the street from the church, waiting for a bus. Knowing that it wouldn't come for another forty minutes, he called out, motioning her to come inside & wait. She told him about her disapointment of interviewing for a job as a nanny to a wealthy family, who hadn't hired her because of her imperfect English as a war refuge.

She sat down in a pew & watched as the pastor adjusted the tablecloth behind the altar & suddenly was standing right beside him. "This is mine! It's my banquet cloth!" she exclaimed, as she showed him the monogrammed initials on the corner. "My husband had this made for me in Brussels before the war!" She explained that her & her husband had opposed the Nazi's & decided they must leave Vienna, Austria where they were living. She went ahead to Switzerland as her husband arranged to have their household goods shipped across the border. She never saw him again & heard that he died in a concentration camp while trying to follow her to Switzerland.

She shared that she had always felt guilty that she got away while he hadn't & ended up immigrating to the U.S. to escape her past & make a new start. The paster tried to comfort her by urging her to take the cloth with her, but she refused & wandered away.

That night, on Christmas Eve, it became clear the that beautifully made tablecloth was a success as it shown in the warm glow of the candlelight. After the service many people complimented the pastor for his choice, including a local clock repairman. "You know many years ago my wife & I owned a very similar cloth!" & as he smiled as he said she would only use it when the bishop came to dinner.

The pastor suddenly became very animated as he sputtered out the story of the woman who had been in the church that morning. The startled jeweler clutched at his arm. "Could it be? Does she live?" The pastor soon managed to get in touch with the family who had interviewed the woman & as the sun rose up on Christmas morning, the reunited couple wept after nearly 10 years of thinking the other had been lost to them during the war.

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