Playdates with God: Wonderland

“I’m going to warn you,” he says, smiling. “That’s where all the children sit. They fill up these first two pews here. If you want to sit surrounded by children, that’s fine. But that’s where they’ll be.”
On Trinity Sunday I am sitting in the first pew waiting as my host busies himself around the church, getting ready for morning service. We make small talk and he tells me some of their story. How he’s been a member there all seventy years of his life. How the neighborhood was a blue-collar one when he was growing up—workers of the chemical plants and the other factories that thrived along the Kanawha River.
“These houses were as neat as a pin, then. The lawns were always mowed and cared for. You never saw any trash or old cars in the yards. It’s a different story now. Drugs. Abuse. The church has been broken into several times…”
He tells me how, a few years ago, their membership dwindled into the single digits. They decided that something must be done. So they reached out to the children.
Right about then, six little girls come through the door, holding hands and chattering. Their ruffled skirts are a rainbow of colors—billowing clouds of sparkles. These girls know they were welcome. They go straight up behind the pulpit area and start dancing, gliding across the chancel, twirling and giggling and clinging to each other. Their sandals clop hard on the wooden floor and Wanda J.—who is sitting four pews from the front and who just celebrated her ninetieth birthday—snaps her fingers.
“Girls! Girls! Settle down.”
And they do. They go and sit in the first pew. One by one he brings them over to meet me.
“Are you our new pastor?” One doe-eyed little girl asks.
“Well, I’m just visiting today,” I say.
I watch them settle in the first two pews. A few little boys join the girls and the first two rows of pews are full.
“Do they come alone? Without their parents?” I ask him.
He nods. “Yeah, they come down from the hill up there.”
When it is time for church, about twenty-five sit in the pews—half of which are children. Through the announcements and the Call to Worship I study their shining faces. After the sermonette—in which I tell them about Memorial Day—they sing a song. No accompaniment, just these young voices lifted up.
“Oh, how I love Jesus…” They sing.
“Oh, how I love Jesus…”
As I listen, I am in Wonderland; I grow small. And God grows bigger. No amount of preparation on the sermon I am about to give could have prepared me for the power of that—no sermon could deliver a message as powerful as the one in those front pews. And what God is doing in that tiny church sweeps me off my feet—brings me to my knees.
“Oh, how I love Jesus. Because he first loved me.”
Over at The High Calling, we’re finishing up our discussion of  The Life of the Body: Physical Well-being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold. We’re giving away two copies of the book this week.

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

the Playdates button:


  1. says

    i totally know what you mean, Laura. moments like that you realize you didn’t come to give these people anything, you are there to receive Jesus through them. dirty, smudged faces, runny noses, smacking gum and all. i have touched the hem of His garment sooo often when He wears a similar disguise.
    beautiful post.

  2. Diane | says

    “No amount of preparation on the sermon I am about to give could have prepared me for the power of that—no sermon could deliver a message as powerful as the one in those front pews.” Yes. What is better than knowing Jesus and responding to his love. Thank you for sharing that Laura.

  3. Nancy Sturm says

    Sometimes I think we get so caught up in “church” that we neglect the simple act of genuine worship. No wonder Jesus reminds us to be like the little children. Beautiful–thanks!

  4. Sharon O says

    I could just see it, along with you. Those sweet little faces filled with joy as they sing. It took me back to an old white church with hard wooden pews I used to walk to on Sundays alone. I would sit and listen and not understand. But somewhere between the fear of the robes and the unknown traditions. I felt safe. Sweet story … thank you.

  5. Mia says

    Dear Laura
    I can just imagine the holiness of that moment! Our Lord Jesus did say that a little child shall lead them. This story brings so much hope and joy to my heart. I will pray right now for that congregation! Thanks for sharing this.
    Much love

  6. says

    Our church has started doing an outdoor service in a part of town that sounds much like the neighborhood you describe here. Again, there are many children that come…. they walk over alone…. we usually do a meal after the service. We have served there on special days when they do bigger events, and I always leave with my heart full, and my perspective adjusted.

  7. Jody Lee Collins says

    God puts you in the most remarkable places. This was lovely. (google/disqus wouldn’t let me log in…?)

  8. Shelly Miller says

    As I started reading, I was wondering if this was one of those churches you visited in a previous story you wrote so beautifully. We have several churches like this, that have lots of kids from the surrounding area who come to church on their own. H and I have visited so many like this, small congregations doing the hard work of plowing the ground, bringing Jesus to the little children. It’s always inspiring and a humbling experience. I’m sure you were a blessing to them.

  9. soulstops says

    I can see those sweet children and hear them singing…so happy you were able to be there for them 🙂 Bless you, Laura 🙂

  10. says

    Such a wonderful way to put it, Shelly–plowing the ground. Those elder
    saints in that church were doing the hard work. In this day when so many
    of our mainline denominations are questioning why our youth are leaving,
    these dear folk just acted out of love and reached across that thick
    line of socioeconomic borders to extend a hand to their neighbors. I bet
    you and H have seen plenty just like this little church. It sure is
    something to behold.

  11. says

    The work done there is no credit to me, Megan. It is how it should be there–these older folks whose children and grands have grown and left and now they have so much room in their lives and hearts for these children. It really just…made me wish I was a more giving person. Made me want to be.

  12. says

    When I see faith so evident in action like this, Diane, it brings Jesus as close as breath. Praying for my eyes and heart to be opened like this more often.

  13. says

    I felt like a spectator, Dolly. Though, after the service, one of the little girls asked me if she could play Mary had a Little Lamb for me on the piano and we spent a few quiet moments together there. They are so hungry for love. So, so hungry.

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