Ok, this is clearly a clergy fantasy. Or at least mine as a minister.
What am I fantasizing about? That one Sunday when EVERYONE shows up for church. I mean everyone from this community. The regulars. And the everyone-once-in-a-whiles. And the C and Es. And so and so’s sister or mother who is with us sometimes…
Members and friends. The teens who were confirmed and wandered off; the babies baptized, and their families. The kids grown up that we rarely see and the people who are mostly home-bound. And the visitors — both the one-offs and those who came for a little bit or for a longer while. My oldest son’s first grade teacher and her husband who showed up one winter while they were helping her aged mother. And all the people on our prayer list. (We need a Sunday when no one is sick!) The ones we knew well, by name or by sight; and the people who somehow we never quite got acquainted with. While we are at it, how about the guests from the Saturday morning breakfast / cupboard and the guys from our Shelter all these years. And all the volunteers who serve here along us.
But really the bulk of the big crowd I’m dreaming about is our regulars in this community that just don’t all come on the same Sunday. Over recent years, not just at Old First, church attendance has become less frequent as Sunday mornings are no longer sacrosanct for ecclesial endeavors in our culture. People have other options and other obligations. Or folks aren’t feeling well. Or they just stay home, because they are tired or need down time. This is anecdotal but very few of our folks average 3 or 4 Sundays a month these days.
Easter is about as close as we get to my fantasy, a sort of worldly facsimile — brokenness included — of heavenly perfection of unity and inclusion. But even then, there are people who don’t come. Some because they don’t like the crowd of folks who are not regulars, who we often don’t see! But others, because they prefer the Dawn Service. Or because they are away visiting family. Or on Spring Vacation. Or they just overslept.
Most Sundays, truthfully, pastors are saddened by someone or the few people we had expected or hoped would show up, but didn’t. That’s even true on Easter. It’s not about us. But about what we hoped for these people. A place of solace. Some company. A word of hope. Quiet to pray. Someone who asks how they are or offers a smile. Support for the single parents. Some forgiveness for someone being too hard on themselves. Compassion and mercy for those who are holding something against a sister, brother, neighbor.
So much magic can happen at church, and much of it is barely noticed except by the person it is happening to.
But it’s more than just the crowd that this fantasy is about, as you could tell from my hopes for people who come to church. Mine is a big fantasy! So it’s not just everyone. It’s also everyone experiencing the hope and promise and support that God, faith, church and service can be in our lives. It’s this millenial Sunday… when everyone is present in the profoundest sense — not just in body, but in fullness of spirit. I mean when we are all PRESENT. When people feel church. When our faith is overflowing. And our love is bursting. When we can’t stop the passing of the peace. And when fellowship hour is truly a second communion. And when service is as natural as the next breath.
What I’d like before I die any time soon (!), is that great getting up morning on this side of the Jordan, a little bit of Azusa Street, when everyone is touched and turned in such a way that there’s hardly room left for turning back… You could all show up and make the pastor really happy! But even more important, think what if would be like for God?
Hmm… Well, now you know my fantasy.
And, in light of it, I wish to invite you to our Welcome Back Sunday this week, on Sept. 8. After the summer break, the travel and the missed Sundays at church, after the early service has switched back to the 11 am start time, after the choir is regrouped and when they will minister to us for the first time in this program year. Now that I have returned from vacation. And when we will begin our new Pre-K Sunday School Class (see below). When Beth will begin her “We Make the Road by Walking” Bible Study in the Social Hall at 10 am. When the Race and Racism Reading Group gathers again to discuss “The Warmth of Other Suns” in the Sanctuary after worship.
When there will be a special fellowship hour (because there’s people we haven’t seen and folks we need to greet). When there is one of our after church brunches (this time at the Bourse where you can choose the kind of food you want, and if you want an adult beverage — and the pastor hopes to see us out do the almost 25 people at the last after-church brunch). After when, now, wow: there is going to be a lot going on!
And we are ALL going to show up. And be together as one body in worship. And to celebrate and to pray, to sing and to listen. Old First in its diversity and strength and love and service. We’re going to catch up with old friends and meet new people.
We are going to extend the circle even as we recognize / celebrate / incarnate that no one is beyond the light of God’s grace. We are going to get ourselves back together again, inside as well as out. To be the church. To gather with Jesus and to draw closer to one another. To celebrate and to pray. To learn and to grow. To be comforted and to be challenged. To be Christian together, which really is the only way to be Christian.
I am looking forward to seeing you all in church,