The Person Right Here

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

True confession: because we work at a church, we don’t always hit a church on vacation Sundays. Because, in too many ways, church = work. We love Jesus, but we can’t help evaluating church (What would we do differently? What could we do differently?) in the midst of worship.

Seventeen years of vacationing in this one town, and this year the Spirit took us to church. A church plant/launch that began one month after our last vacation here: we noticed, we felt intrigued, we went to church.

We loved it! Inviting music, insightful sermon, everything felt familiar in the best ways, comfortable and unforced and, oh yeah baby, This Is Church!

It’s truly something when church ‘professionals’ are able to so fully enter a worship experience… So of course we wanted to greet the pastor, to thank him and connect and jive on this great God-led morning.

In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t.

He was all smiles at the handshake. Less so when he learned we were clergy on vacation. He said, “Hey, do you mind if I make the rounds?”

Of course, it is the pastor’s job to greet his own flock.

We made our way to their generous coffee hour, coffee and cookies and homemade apple pie–lions and tigers and bears, Oh My–the hospitality! People were warm, smiling, edging us deeper in.

When I joined Guy next to the always-welcome morning coffee, he was thanking the worship leader for her leadership. She couldn’t contain her God-and-church enthusiasm. She gushed her love for this church and what it has meant to their family, how they have experienced God in this place. We couldn’t help but smile and be grateful to God who makes all things new.

Still, I left feeling uneasy. The service had been an amazing whole, but…?

It hit me later: I saw a dimming in the pastor’s eyes, after we had shaken hands, when he realized we were not going to be new converts or new congregants. We were not going to be his. And so, we didn’t matter, at least in ways that matter. To him. I felt like, because we wouldn’t count, we didn’t count.

As Guy and I walked the coast, I told him my impression, my dis-ease even after an incredible worship experience. I encouraged him: the person in front of you is the person that matters. Not for what they can give you or how they might count on a tally sheet. They matter: to God, and to you.

The pastor should have been stoked to have another pastor totally digging the service he’d crafted. We went to the same grad school, had the same professors—that alone should have been reason to connect. We’re in sister denominations—another reason.

Instead, he seemed eager to be on to the next person. And if that person is someone in his congregation or community with whom he wholeheartedly engages, fine. Appropriate.

Except, we went to coffee hour. And never saw him again.

The worship leader got it. She was happy to share her experience of God in this place, happy to connect with people who want to connect.

A year from now, I imagine we will again plop ourselves in their pews. The experience warrants another go. And every other Sunday between now and then—every day between now and then—I hope we both remember that whoever stands in front of us is the gift God has given us in that moment.

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