We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Advent 4 – Apollo 8, Christmas Eve at the moon

It has been more than 50 years since this mission and since the first 10 verses of Genesis was read to 1.5 billion people, the largest audience to that time.

It was commemorated by a celebration at National Cathedral on Dec. 11, 2018 called “Spirit of Apollo”. The webcast is here.

Dean Randy Hollerith introduced it. Hollerith called it an “this amazing mission that I would call a pilgrimage. It revealed not only dark side of the moon and but gave our most powerful images of our small and fragile world God’s precious gift awash in an unimaginably large universe. I think of it as a holy journey not only what it accomplished and what it showed of our place in our God’s grand’s creation.”

The six-day mission lifted off on Dec. 21, 1968, with its crew of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.

The voyage had many firsts.
1. first manned mission to the moon gaining lunar orbit
2. first mission to leave earth orbit, symbolically striking free of our home for centuries.
3. first use of the most powerful rocket of its time Saturn V rocked and firing behind the moon
4. It gave us our first images of the complete earth rising from the moon. The flight included a day orbiting the moon, during which the astronauts took the “Earthrise” picture — one of the most iconic photographs ever taken of our planet. It captured the beauty and fragility of our home planet. The earth was called a “blue marble”, the only object that had any color. The photo has also been credited as a major impetus for the environmental movement and the first Earth day. It was a group effort – Frank Borman was turning the vessel, Lovell found the right film and Anders took the picture.
Today Earthrise symbol of one of history greatest exploration when we journeyed to another world looking back seeing their home planet as “a grand oasis in the vastness of space” (Jim Lovell). Here is a modern reconstruction of how the picture was taken.
5. It gave us a reading of the first 10 verses of Genesis for the largest audience up to that time. They were told to something appropriate.

The astronauts have reflected on the event. A newspaper friend of Borman tried to think of what to say and he could come up with nothing after a night’s work. His wife said (raised in convent in France) suggested, “Why don’t you start in the beginning” He said “Where?” She said “Genesis in the Bible.” They reflected later – “Why didn’t we think of that.”

Borman is often said to have made the call to read from Scripture, but he describes it as a collaborative decision. “I didn’t choose it,” he said in October, 2018, when all three astronauts met with TIME to mark the 50th anniversary of their mission, at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where their spacecraft is displayed. “We all agreed it was the right thing to do.”

Borman explained they tried to convey not happen stance but power behind world and behind life gave it meaning. As he later explained, “I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us-that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.”

As John Glenn said, “To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible. … It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it’s like.”

This is all something to return to this Christmas season as we revisit our beginnings. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said we went to the moon but we found ourselves in the process.