Two weeks ago, while I was standing in the back of the sanctuary waiting for the choir to process down the aisle, one of our greeters approached me and in a huff announced that “that man” just asked me “What is with all the clothes hanging around outside?” She continued on to explain that “those are not clothes, they are human beings and they should be treated with respect.”
She’s right – they should and for the most part are being treated by our congregation with love, respect and grace.
But no matter how hard I tried to get a word in edgewise, I didn’t get to explain to her what I believe the man had seen.
I’ve thought a lot about that incident since then, as well as several other questions some of our congregants have cornered me with – “Does the church have showers?” “Why do we have to have so many tables on our patio?” “Why do we let them listen in to our choir rehearsals?”
I’ve thought a lot about what it must feel like to leave your homeland and move blindly into a world where the language, the money, the customs, the food and just about everything else is different – and to be sitting day after day in a small concrete area with very little to do to while away the day, waiting for their call to make the last step toward an unknown new future.
You see, one of the privileges I’ve had in the past weeks is driving to church in the early Sunday morning hours and seeing towels and clothing items hanging from the railings along the staircase near the chapel. And I’ve laughed at the rather large pair of sneakers with neon yellow laces, which perched precariously for several weeks on one of the succulents near the memorial garden. More than once I’ve dropped off items and food to discover the “choir parking lot” being used as a soccer field. When I motioned to a reluctant guest lurking in the open choir room door during a rehearsal to come inside to listen, I saw tears – and the next day, was offered a personal serenade of a folk song from his home. Grown men have taken my hand and in soulful voices looked me in the eyes and said “thank you. thank you. thank you” in ways I’ve never heard before. Oh, the sudden grins at the appearance of a randomly delivered pan of home-baked goods. And who can resist Ricardo – now calling himself “Ricky” when he raises his hands to the sky and announces loudly for all the world to hear, “You are amazing! You are beautiful! I love you!”
To me, the sign of a vibrant, living church isn’t whether the lights are on in the sanctuary or how loudly a congregation sings the hymns, or how tidy the landscaping is. It’s the clothes on the railing, the small acts of kindness, the much larger donations of time and love given by our church community, the random questions asked because you care. We show our devotion to Christ’s mission when we love one another, show compassion, look beyond the status quo, give others hope for what is to come.
Dear Lord, help us to truly understand what we see before we judge. Help us to find ways to provide comfort and delight to those who face uncertainty. Help us recognize that a vibrant church is more than a wealthy one – it is a church that demonstrates your love for all in ways both great and small. Amen