As we do most Sundays after late worship, a group of us looked at one another in the Narthex and said “you want to go to lunch?” We did….and we did.
While we were waiting for our name to be called in a very crowded restaurant folks began to politely visit. Perfect strangers working hard to take up conversation to help pass the time. We discussed the weather. Others made awkward jokes about global warming and the ice. Blinked and nodded a lot.
It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to church. Maybe because it was Sunday. Perhaps because I was wearing a tie and the assumption was all tie wearing men on Sunday must have gone to church.
Side note. I don’t inflict my calling on perfect strangers. I went way out of my way to not say I was clergy during my football officiating days. It just made folks feel awkward. I learned that if I waited long enough it would always come up in more appropriate relational ways.
A perfect stranger directly across from my knees in this crowded eatery began to openly share how many different churches they had been members of and why. Thankfully, my church wasn’t on the list, one way or another. I quietly nodded and said encouraging words about each church she mentioned while still not self-revealing.
I hoped silently we would return to weather, and before I could blink I was outed by our lunch partners. Well this is our pastor…our member said to the traveling church stranger.
This is where the fun begins.
First, our stranger church traveler didn’t know where our church was. It took us a couple of minutes to establish bearings even though the person lived here for decades. We still have marketing to do, people!
Secondly, after hearing I was a preacher the individual launched into a personal theology summary in 22 seconds or less. Church traveler connected this 22 seconds with all the reasons they left all those churches. It left me thinking they weren’t looking for a right and good church that inspired and challenged, they was looking for a place that reinforced what was already believed. Others in the conversation quickly died away.
It all left me wondering what other ears around us were thinking. Our culture keeps making the repeated mistake that church is about us. Some put it in the entertainment or shopping preference venue. It isn’t. I decided a crowded restaurant moment wasn’t the place to make that point. Thankfully, it was about then our name was called to be seated.
On the other hand, faith and God can’t be reduced to 22 seconds and if 22 seconds is all I have I better be sure my words are carefully measured and centered in something more than me.
But what do I know? I’m just a clandestine, Sunday tie wearing minister trying to quietly get some lunch.
(Original content published March 2, 2015 in the newsletter of FCC Midland, TX)