She sits on our steps. She writes. She carries her bags. Blonde, small, quiet. She’s been part of our landscape for years. Sometimes, the letters find their way into our mailbox. “Dear Pastor, I want you to know that . . . ” in very careful and lovely handwriting. Beyond the greeting, the letters make little sense. A collection of Bible verses, an admonition that she is a Christian, a side of an argument to which the other side is only in her mind. Pages and pages of writing, sometimes.
But in the past few years, she hasn’t dropped anything in the mailbox. Just sits on our steps. I greet her. She returns the greeting. We chat. Nice weather. Beautiful day. Sometimes, there’s a cordial wave. When Allen Saxe and I had our first conversation about the Dilworth Soup Kitchen, he said, “You know, we have homeless people here in Dilworth, and some of them sit on the steps of YOUR church all day!” This was the woman he meant. She has never stepped foot inside the Dilworth Soup Kitchen. Hundreds of people walk miles to get to us, but this woman never comes. She returns regularly to her spot on the steps, spreads out a little, and resumes her writing. She doesn’t come to Sunday services. She doesn’t come to the soup kitchen, or any other organized gathering here. She just comes to the steps of our church–steps to a side door we rarely use–and spends hours there at a time.
A few weeks ago, a man called the church looking for a possible place for a friend’s wedding. He has attended our church only a few times since I’ve been pastor here. As we talked and he relayed the situation to me, it was clear to me he considers himself part of First Christian Church. He tells people that this is his church, though he lives at least 30 minutes away and has only attended those few times. Last week, I spoke on the phone with someone we rarely see on Sunday mornings. She lives quite a distance. She has many obligations that keep her away. But it was clear to me she considers herself part of First Christian Church. Many years ago, these assumptions would have seemed preposterous. Today, they are commonplace.
It was almost 16 years ago that I came to this church. When I met with the Search Committee for the first time, I asked the question of them, “What made you become part of this church.” I was expecting a few answers like, “The people were nice,” “It’s a pretty sanctuary,” “I was raised in the Disciples of Christ.” I got some of those answers. But one knocked my socks off. “It felt like God was here.”
God is here. Journeys toward sobriety, discoveries about what’s possible, transformations for the better, moments of grace and forgiveness, insights about faith, connections to Jesus, splashing baptisms, anointings, deep fervent prayers, gatherings around tables, challenges that won’t let us go, insights that leave us breathless, healings of body and spirit–they’ve all happened here over the years, in the lives of the people who keep coming back, in the lives of all of us who consider this corner, this tribe, their home.
To the woman on the steps, the man 30 minutes away, the member on the phone, and all the rest of you, thank you for being part of it, too.