“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: