Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Snippets

It was New Year's Eve and I hadn't prayed in the new year since 1988. I discovered a nearby church that was holding a prayer service at a reasonable time Wednesday night. Things were supposed to wrap up by 8:30 and I'd make it home before the roads got dangerous.

When I pulled into the church parking lot, I spotted the pastor pacing near the entrance way, ready to greet anyone. The congregation was finishing up a pot luck supper in the basement. He invited me downstairs but I preferred to wait in the near-empty sanctuary. I had met him in 2001 when I tried to get involved in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). Things were so haphazard in those days. But it means something that he's still there pastoring.

As congregants began making their way upstairs, I was greeted by a number of people. Well, I shouldn't say that because there were hardly a dozen folks in attendance overall. But a woman asked my name and introduced me to the pastor's wife. I mentioned my tenuous connection with the church: the facilitator at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) is a member. I knew she was out of town for the holiday and figured there would be a seat free. I joked that I didn't want to take anyone's seat. The pastor's wife became serious and said, "We aren't like that here. Some places are, but not us." As she said this, I noticed a young family enter, throw a frustrated look, begin to enter the pew and then press on a couple of rows behind me. I thought to myself, "I'm in someone's seat after all." As things looked as if they were going to begin, the woman who first struck up a conversation said, "Well, I'd better get to my seat." And she did, as well as the pastor's wife.

It began as you would expect, with singing. And Pentecostal songs are really pretty repetitive. Each are maybe about two refrains in length that are sung over and over again. I was surprised because there's that "vain repetitions" admonition in the Gospel. Maybe it isn't considered vain.

Now, to my surprise, I recognized a woman who entered almost late. She sat next to me but we didn't get a chance to talk until everything was over. She used to work the front desk at the YMCA weekday mornings when I went in at 5 to swim. She was always so cheery and me, at that early hour, was usually not. After a while, I noticed that she wasn't there for a time and they told me she had surgery. She came back to work for a brief time but didn't look as happy. She told me she retired.

I'm not charismatic. I've said many times. There's no raised hands, body swaying, not even shifting on my feet, when I sing. Maybe I'll tap my foot to the music, but that's about it. However, several people were able to get deep into the songs. Except the young woman next to me was often on her phone. People were encouraged to give what the pastor called "popcorn testimony," just a brief statement of thanksgiving in-between songs. The piano player shared what she'd read in that day's "Through the Bible in a Year" devotional, from Psalm 84, "For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." A few nodded, indicating that they, too, had finished well. The pastor let slip he's read through the Bible thirty times.

After the music, of course, there was a sermon. No preacher worth his salt would skip an opportunity to talk. He twice mentioned in his remarks to the congregation how jealous he was that my BSF facilitator was away on vacation. He talked about how God had given him physical strength even though he's in his sixties. He said that they were going to have the Lord's supper that evening, as a family, and he explained what it was and what it wasn't. He was as clear on what it wasn't as he was that all were invited. It took him a great while to get around to distributing communion.

I declined it. Sharon, next to me, took the elements and placed the cracker atop the juice cup so she only had to hold them in one hand. That bothered me a bit. Then, they all consumed together and the sight and sound of everyone munching - crackers crunch - was almost too much. The women in the front pew had to reach around behind them to deposit their used communion cups.

The service ran long for not starting on time. And I was anxious to get home. I expected someone to tell my BSF facilitator that a friend of hers had visited the church in her absence but when I saw her, she didn't mention it. Unless she hadn't gotten there for worship yet in the new year.


RAnn said...

My former pastor once said that since Protestants lack many of our sacraments, they have created one of their own--the sacrament of hospitality, and they do it well.

Joann Nelander said...

A young Catholic priest, who used to be an Anglican, was serving American troops as chaplain in Germany. He was waiting in the room that served as sacristy preparing for the Mass he would soon offer, while a non-denominational,(if there is such a thing)was still going on with a lot of singing and clapping.

He said he felt such sorrow realizing the Eucharist that was reserved there was just a few yards from the throng of jubilant people and yet they didn't recognize Him.