Thursday, February 11, 2016

Who Will Be a Witness?

Last Friday, I left downtown with a few errands to run before going home to make the last of my phone calls for the week.  I planned the most efficient route to make the most of my time.  Through a series of events, I ended up doing my errands in reverse order.  So, I found myself pulling into my church parking lot just as a young man was getting into his car to leave.  As I walked to the building, he asked me if I worked there or if I knew anything about this place.  Well, yeah. 

He said he had tried all the doors but they were locked and he “felt like a criminal.”  I was glad to let him into the church.  We walked into the narthex (foyer) and I opened up the doors to the church.  He sort of gasped.  He had never been in a church before this day.  It felt heavy to him and not in a good way so we went back out to the narthex.  I explained that all people are welcome in this place.  As he told me his story, I listened intently.  He didn’t know why he drove to the church but he did.  We talked about his background which could be described as atheistic.  I explained my belief that when people enter this church, they have been sent by God.   We discussed his work as a musician and some things he had in common with my older son. 

When it came time to talk about worship services and communion, I found myself boiling it down to the most basic description possible.  This was someone who’s family had never mentioned God, ever.  When I said that the bread and wine were symbols of Jesus giving his life so we could have more than just this life here (motioning between us), that seemed to mean something to him.  As I remember this interchange, I don’t think I have ever been in the position of introducing an adult to Jesus for the very first time.

Since he was worried about what might happen after this encounter due to the extreme experience of it, I asked him if I could show him something.  We went back into the church to the prayer altar.  I lit a candle for him and prayed for him.  I pointed out two other lit candles and explained that prayer candles aren’t blown out; they will eventually go out by themselves.  He asked me what he was to do, how was he to reciprocate.   Just say thank you.  As he left, he said again that he didn’t know why he came to church that day.  I shared that my original plans would have put me at the church an hour later.   We shook hands and he was gone.

Occasionally, I light a prayer candle and text a photo of it to the person that I prayed for as a visual manifestation of prayer.  I felt like I had to take a picture of that candle – the only proof that this young man had been there.  I chatted with the two other people in the building and when I went back to take a picture, the other two candles had just gone out with smoke rising.  I continue to pray that our paths will cross again.    

Yesterday, in observance of Ash Wednesday, St. Mary’s sent out teams to various locations in the community to offer prayers and imposition of ashes.  One of the laypersons who participated was a bit anxious but came anyway.  A year ago, she had fallen away from church and now she is a witness for Jesus in the world, imposing ashes on a stranger. 

I can still see the faces of those we encountered.  Some accepted ashes timidly, some enthusiastically.  Some trusted us with the pain they were experiencing in their lives.  Some expressed outright joy at our presence.  Our paths may never cross again.  Genuine connection with the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to be long term to be powerful.   The point was not to get these people in the pews on Sunday although that would be wonderful.  The point was obedience to our Baptismal promise to spread the Good News of a love that conquers all. 

We can either be a witness to the world of Christ’s unconditional love or we can be a silent bystander.  What is Jesus asking you to do to be his hands and feet on this earth?  

For inspiration, here is a link to one of my favorite spirituals, "Witness," arranged by Jack Halloran and sung by the Gustavus Choir.