Jesus is clear about his preference for the lost: if a sheep, a coin or a person are missing, God’s love compels us to seek to find, to recover what is lost so it’s found.
I’ve learned many things in ministry at Old First, but two of them relate to this lost and found theme. 1) Things that get lost are often later found. And 2) with people, it’s hard to tell who is lost and who is not. In this two part/two week E-pistle, I want to speak about both.
First, often things ‘go lost’ around church. Because it’s a big complicated community with many parts. And because there are a lot of people with different roles. Unlike most churches these days whose spaces are underutilized, Old First’s problem is that we overuse our buildings. Hence, some discussion in the Capital Campaign is about additional property.
On top of overuse by many users, standardized procedures aren’t always the strong suits in UCC congregations. We’re the platonic form of a UCC congregation in this respect — with an endless variety of different ways to handle things and diverse places we think they belong!
The same democracy and “horizontal-ness” that makes us a broad-minded and open community also means, we have a lot of cooks in the kitchen (literally and figuratively)… and it’s an intention of our community for each one to feel empowered to try what he or she thinks will work best. Another way to think of it: without centralized authority at the top to hold everything together… well, remember what happened to the East bloc of nations when the Soviet Union could no longer keep everyone in line?
Add to “this heady and exasperating mix,” at Old First, we have more than an average number of folks from beyond our immediate community using our building. By definition, they don’t know our procedures or the few agreements we have on where things belong.
Ok, and sometimes with all our openness, things also walk. Disappear permanently. Get stolen. In most cases, I try to muster the faithful confidence that whoever took whatever really needed it…
The most recent case in point– the big red Bible on the lectern (from which the lector reads the lessons in worship). It ‘went missing.’ I noticed, it was gone on the Saturday of Linda W.’s funeral. “It’s always been there since I’ve been here. What could have happened to it? Could someone have moved it?” I wondered.
Truth be told, what with hosting a three hour repast after the funeral… after an earlier wedding that day, I decided to worry about it later. I was going to look in the big chest where we store candlesticks and collection plates. And I did tell some people it was missing and ask if they had any ideas, or leads. And Mindy, when she was in the Sanctuary building, did some scouting to no avail.
Stealing Bibles isn’t usually our most pressing fear or concern, hence, unlike the cross and candlesticks, it has not been stored away each week after worship. And if someone wanted one, why would they have taken the huge, heavy, big print “Pulpit Bible” when the pews are full of portable ones? Did someone take it to sell? …Who would buy a used Pulpit Bible, dedicated to Old First in memory of Gerry W.’s father upon the occasion of his death?
I wasn’t totally worried because I wasn’t convinced it was gone. But I did know that it missing was upsetting Gerry understandably.
As I’ve said, things that are missing at church have a tendency to show up later. Take the baptismal fount. I went to get it from the closet one Sunday when we were having a baptism, and it wasn’t there. Luckily, I had at church, the pretty glass bowl with the painted fish that we’ve used before.
But after worship, I mentioned to everyone I could think of who might know where it was — Mindy, Nancy, Alice, Gerry — that it was missing. There was concern, but I assured everyone it is not some piece of silver from colonial times. (In fact, the silver plate has been rubbed off the rim, so it almost looks as if it has brass edging.)
A month later, looking for something else in the closet where it was supposed to be all along, there it was. I still don’t know where it had gone or who put it back!
The fount disappeared again last month while Mindy was out sick. Again it wasn’t in the closet. I had my glass bowl. Baby baptized. No sweat, just left waiting to see when and where the fount turned up. This second time, Mindy told me later, “Oh, sorry. I keep it in the office now, so I can polish it before the next baptism.” What seemed lost was found.
Those of you in church this past Sunday might have noticed that as the congregation got up for communion, Alexa saw something, and asked her dad, “Why’s the red bible on the landing of the front staircase up to the balcony?” Adam answered, “I don’t know, ask Pastor Michael.”
I was glad to run up the stairs as the communion line formed, retrieve the prodigal scripture and return it to the lectern. I bet that made this All Saints’ Sunday extra special for Gerry.
See you in church,
P.S. Next week: Lost & Found at Church (part 2) …about people!