Church as an Unlikely Meeting Place: Old First E-pistle 09.12.13

Church as an Unlikely Meeting Place: Old First E-pistle 09.12.13

I “overheard” some of you talking on Facebook this week. That’s not unusual for a pastor, either virtually or in real life. We have to have our antenna up all the time. Whether walking up the aisle in the Sanctuary before worship on Sunday morning, or in between the lines of a mundane e-mail about an upcoming meeting, we try catch at least some of what we need to.

We also have to be humble and trust in your forgiveness– we miss or misread a lot of the time too! But still we need to be on the look out for connections and gifts and often very subtle signs that people and their interactions give off.

The FB conversation “I was looking in on” was remarkable not for what was said — which ranged from silliness to serious import. It was, rather, remarkable to me because these people were speaking at all. The people in the conversation — all from our church community — I didn’t know they keep in touch. Actually, I didn’t know that they even knew each other.

I love how often I stumble on surprising ties within the body of Christ that I had not realized existed. It happens more often than i would expect. I take that as a sign that ours is a strong community where people are making connections.

For all Facebook’s ambiguities and the way it can actually make life busier and more complicated, it enables this– some communication and staying in touch, even with each other’s daily realities, that was not possible before. But in this case, that technological aid is just an add-on, piggybacking on a deeper place of encounter. The people in that conversation had met at church.

Of course, anything is possible with God, and without church, perhaps God could have orchestrated those folks encountering one another. But the fact remains, it was church that God used to bring them together.

One of you said to me once, “Old First is the place that brings all kinds of people into my life that I might otherwise not know, much less interact with or feel close to.”

I have been thinking of that this week.

Of how many of the important relationships in my adult have been made possible, formed and nurtured under the auspices of the church. Maybe it’s not surprising since I am a minister, but I would estimate that most of my relationships these days fall in that category. People, were it not for the church, I might not have met, much less considered dear.

For instance, I love coming up the stairs to the Upper Narthex on Sunday, to the big smile, hug and kiss with which Iyabo Awoyale greets me. It’s become my routine, and I miss it if she isn’t in church.

Certainly, her husband’s academic career and immigration brought her from Nigeria to Sicklerville. But the church is the reason or occasion for our knowing each other — and hugging! — out of the million plus people in the Philly area.

One should think of and thank the faith community for the friends that one has made because people meet each other at church. And there are the folks who are almost more than friends (I’m thinking of Jordana and Daniel who once told me they were really sister and brother). And then there’s married couples like Jane and Eli Whitney who met at Old First. And all the incredible, varied relations wherein people care for each other in ways little and large.

Take a minute and think about the relationships you have because of church. Not just those occasioned by a faith community. But also those nurtured, even transformed. Maybe you can even go all the way to “those relationships that have been redeemed by church.”

Because, of course, ultimately church exists to help us with another encounter. Our idioms and experiences will be different, but I believe they are all struggling to express the same ineffable encounter. We look to church to help us meet Jesus or God or the Spirit. Maybe all three in various ways and at different times.

Of course, church isn’t the only place for us to have such a meeting with God. But it helps us to recognize or chase after or bump into or welcome God in one way or another, wherever we might actually find the Divine. (Or the Deity find us.) I hope you will think about how church participates in your relationship with God too. And be thankful for those encounters and how they bless and guide and change our lives and the lives of others.

See you in church,

Michael