There’s no place more satisfying for me on a Sunday morning than our church. Sunday School is a stirring, open back and forth about the Scriptures and what they mean, led by a brilliant teacher, but that’s maybe for a later day.
But, this morning, as I sat in my usual spot in the seat on the center aisle, right side, three pews from the rear of the main floor, I was inundated with sensory awareness of what was around me, and what it means to me. And how good it is.
The music. The choir in tune and on key. Some of us out in the congregation in tune and on key and the ones who weren’t making the mix all the richer.
That moment after the first hymn when we “turn to each other and greet your neighbor with the peace of God”. Earlier in life, this was oddly embarrassing. I can’t tell you why. But, lately, I love it. Shaking hands with friend and new friend alike, encouraging the visitor, hopefully, to like this experience and return. “All God’s children”.
Babies giggling or crying periodically. Mommas rocking or jiggling them, “shhhhhh….” Momma two pews in front stands to sing the hymn, cradling and swaying, little bare piggies protruding to her right, and one pudgy hand to her left, clutching and releasing air, clutching and releasing. Young daddies holding the hymnal, trying to focus in the midst of the heavy responsibility of suddenly providing for more than just themselves.
Heads of white, couples sharing this hour as they’ve done for decades, more aware than ever of the immeasurable impact on who they are and what they are.
The lady on the very last row, who must sit there because she loves to belt out the Gloria Patri in her operatic voice, and wouldn’t want anyone to miss the experience.
A young man and his guardian, the young man mentally challenged, who stands during the entire service, rocking from side to side, moaning. Even in the density of his disorientation, he knows where this place is and wants to be here.
The pastor mixes story and funny church moments with lectionary to get the point across. Sometimes I’m listening. Sometimes, my mind is wandering all over the place. That’s not the pastor’s fault. I don’t like it when I lose track, but believe that, somehow, the substance of all the pieces of this hour dig in and stay there.
Then, the charge and the benediction. I like it when the pastor chooses the door I usually exit through to stand and share brief moments with us individually. It’s good to grip the hand of the pastor. You want to say things like “well done” or “you were right on the money today”, but I don’t think he wants that. He’s likely in more need of a friendly handshake and sincere well-wishing.
My earliest memories included Sunday’s at church. My whole family, probably going back hundreds of years, have been church people. I can remember my Granddaddy Park’s First Pres of Spartanburg, where he was an usher. The dark, wooden arches that held up the lighter, warmer ceiling with its Tudor chandeliers casting that welcoming glow. Grandmother Ingle…well, they used to say that she “closed the church doors” on Sunday morning after worship, because by the time she’d talked to everyone she loved there, no one else was left. My daddy was celebrated with a going away party at church when we moved to another town. He had been serving on the Board of Deacons and as the Superintendent of Sunday School, a substantial and critical spot in the Baptist church.
I’ve been in church, with a few brief backslidden moments, all my life. During those moments of being absent, I think I believed it wasn’t really that important, that other things took priority. But now, at 66, I have to laugh at my misguided judgment, for whatever those other things were came and went, but here stands the church still. And all the good that is generated there. There, in the midst of the body of saints, none perfect, all frail, all failed in one way or another, but all hungrily lapping up the grace, mercy, love, joy, strength, confirmation, edification and friendly faces for all they’re worth. All glad they’re there. I’ve often said to people that I can’t remember ever leaving the church on Sunday feeling worse than I did when I came that morning.
So, that’s where I’ll aim to be at that hour for as long as God gives me the physical ability to do so.
As the Good Word says, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord”. Amen!