On a Sunday morning I practice with the praise team and then sit in the front waiting for my husband, the pastor, and our three children. I listen. I listen to hear the ethos of the morning group. In years past it could be chilling: underlying tension from unresolved relationships, rude attendees waiting to criticize, disgruntled leaders murmuring words of discontent.
In more recent years I sit and listen, hopeful and longing for the sound of those entering. Where is everyone? Is it a holiday weekend? Is there an early football game or another soccer tournament? Did the Smiths go to their vacation home again or are they skiing this weekend? We don’t know and in some ways it doesn’t matter—for even our involved families often don’t make a priority of Sunday morning worship. I dream of people suddenly and eagerly streaming in the building with excitement to meet their Lord and maker. But they don’t come and it breaks my heart.
And then there are those Sundays where I sit and listen to the sounds of laughter and of glad hearts, of those coming to fellowship, to learn, and to worship. Our young pianist plays a new rendition of an old, meaningful hymn and I am joyful and thankful. Yet even when we swell with energy, we are very few in number, the kind of crowd gathered in a Sunday school class at a larger church.
Here comes a man with his lovely teen daughter alone and faithful on Sunday mornings. His wife shows up once a year on Christmas Eve. They sit beside a grandmother with her young grandson, one who was abandoned by his mother. Although this grandmother is old enough to have memories of the Germans invading her Norwegian homeland, she cares for and loves this little boy nonetheless. They sit near a woman from Ghana and her son who looks contemptuously at his mother, the one who dragged him to church. His stepfather, a Scotsman, feels no need to enter any church.
We are a late church so as I lead the hymns and songs of praise I can’t help notice those who straggle in. One man walks by himself to our church. His wife and daughter go to their own churches, all separate from one another on a Sunday morning. Another man looks as though he has slept on the street. He deals with mental illness and struggles to meet the most basic needs of his teenaged daughter. I see two women walk in, one from Peru and one from Venezuela. They are single mothers and housemates living together to make ends meet. An intact family with beautiful young children enters. They come once a month or less as they do battle with their American dream: demanding careers, household responsibilities, guilt over leaving their little ones too often in the care of others.
This is our church. They are not fictitious characters. We live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country and in one of the most highly educated. Our congregation can boast of scientists, professors, engineers, highly decorated military men, and government workers. The median income reaches to six digits. And yet, none of that matters. The brokenness of our world permeates deeply.
And so our little church grieves and waits and prays. We pray for Ethiopian eunuchs to come, those who are waiting and eager to hear the gospel and understand (Acts 8). We pray for God to open our church womb and fill us with children. We pray for healing of relationships for all of our sadly splintered families. We pray for our teens that they will come to know God and understand His greatness and glory even though we often don’t see that happening. We pray for ourselves, for the stamina and strength to keep going, to rejoice in the smallest of victories and not to despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10). Most of all we pray for the redemption of Jesus and for Him to take this sad group that He has dared to call His bride and to make her glory shine.