Sometimes, your church is present to people you don’t know. Sometimes, we are asked to help in situations that are unspeakably difficult. Sometimes, we provide the help and the welcome others refuse to offer. This was one of those times.
It was a few years ago. I won’t name names. Suffice it to say a bereaved man was looking for a Christian church open-minded enough to host his beloved’s funeral. The funeral director contacted me, through a friend of his who happened to be a member of our church. Would we be willing to host a funeral for someone who was openly gay? They had been told “no” by another church, a church more closely connected to the family. Even though we didn’t know them, would we? We did. Of course we did. I preached that funeral giving thanks for a life I never met, providing support for the bereaved spouse and extended family who were all devastated by this sudden loss. It is the kind of thing we do, from time to time. We didn’t expect accolades for this. We just wanted to help when needed. It was a message of grace. It was a message of God’s love. It was a message of a future with hope. We shared it, and, apparently, it stuck.
I saw him on Sunday, the bereaved spouse. He came to church, as he does from time to time. Sometimes we see him on Christmas. Sometimes we see him on Easter. And sometimes, as was the case last week, we see him at the anniversary of that funeral, that home-going, that broke his heart.
He sat in the back. I didn’t even realize he was there, until his eyes met mine as I shook his hand after service. “It’s you!” I said, awkwardly. The tears were there at the corners of his eyes. His face was red with emotion. “I guess it is about that time, isn’t it?” He nodded. I told him I was grateful to see him. He said the same, and I believe he meant it. Then he walked away, to disappear until the next time he surprises me at the door.
Here’s someone most people in our church would not know. He doesn’t get involved in our ministries of service. He just had some of the most significant moments of his life happen in our sanctuary. He is a different man because of it. And, it seems to me, God has planted a seed in his life that is growing bit by bit. The grace with which he is received by the members here, the welcome offered every time we gather, the kindness extended–even to a stranger, has made him return.
When you come to church and greet those around you, know that the hands you shake and the faces you meet are on their own journey toward God. For some reason, they came to First Christian Church instead of all the others out there.
Maybe it was because God wanted them to meet you.