Belonging to a worshiping community is so basic I hardly know how to write of it.
From Souderton Mennonite Church, into which I was born, I can still hear 500 voices singing in unaccompanied four-part harmony.
I recall the stories in Summer Bible School, where the Bible first animated me (and the ice cream cups brought great joy). I recall the only object lesson I ever saw at the front of that church – a model of the Old Testament tabernacle made by one of our pastors.
I remember watching the acted parables of baptism, communion, and foot washing with solemn wonder. I remember enduring the deacon’s long prayers as we knelt backwards, facing the bench on which we had just been sitting.
As a young child, I waited eagerly for the deacon’s benediction, signalling “we can go home now.” I memorized the one from Jude: “Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy….” Imagine! Little Susan, who couldn’t sit still in church, could be presented faultless before God!
I knew I belonged at Souderton Mennonite Church as a child. It likely helped that my Dad’s uncle was the bishop, and my own uncle and later an older cousin were among our pastors….
As an adult, I have twice chosen Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener as my church home. When Sam and I started attending as young adults in the 1970s, Rockway and its pastor John W. Snyder welcomed our faith questions. I give thanks for Rockway’s role in helping me, fresh from the ‘60s, find my way back to church and even begin imagining the vocation of pastoral ministry.
I was pleased when Paul, one of the youth I taught in Sunday school said, “When we pray, it’s as if there’s a big circle around the room and our prayers go up to God together and become one prayer.” What a wonderful picture of what’s going on here, I thought….
Many years later, Sam and I chose Rockway a second time after I had served several other churches as a pastor. We felt fully welcomed back by the congregation and by our pastor, Scott Brubaker-Zehr. When we returned, I appreciated the fact that we still knew quite a few people; at the same time I took considerable comfort in the fact that others had joined in our absence.
At Rockway, we still explore new theologies and welcome faith questions. I enjoy the singing in the lovely old church building we bought a couple years ago – the first time our congregation has owned a building in our 57-year history. I’m pleased that we sponsored a Syrian refugee family at the same time we’re paying for our building.
I no longer eagerly wait for the congregational prayer to end, as I did in childhood. It fact, it’s become one of the most sacred parts of the service for me, a weekly emblem of Christian community. When we pray I often feel that big circle around the room named by Paul more than 30 years ago; I believe our prayers do ascend to God together and become one prayer.
Of course the Souderton Mennonite Church of the 1950s was not perfect. Nor was Rockway Mennonite in the 1970s; nor is it now. All worshiping communities have their blind spots, as do the people within them – or at least I’m regularly confronted with mine.
That’s why I was bowled over earlier this spring by the juxtaposition of tulips, sunlight and dust. Each sunny Sunday in our new-to-us building, we’ve wondered where the shaft of sunlight coming in through the high window to the right of the pulpit is going to hit us. For a while some of us wore sunglasses to church, in case it was our turn to be hit in the face.
Then one Sunday, following a wonderful sermon on “Living out of Wilderness,” the sun shone brightly on a pot of tulips on the communion table as Scott was taking prayer requests. Scott said that he had noticed it too, and had noticed at the same time the layer of construction dust on the communion table!
Hmm…Tulips making beauty out of sunlight on a dust-covered communion table. Does the confluence of these elements spell promise? It just might. For God remembers that we are dust, all the while nurturing us with warmth and light.
With this particular sun-drenched, dust-formed bunch called Rockway Mennonite Church, I have joyfully thrown in my lot. Here by God’s grace we sometimes manage to make beauty out of sunlight, rooted as we are in the dirt.
Here my soul is regularly restored. Here we are collectively energized for our work in God’s world.
Questions for Reflection:
1. How important is it for you (if at all) to be part of a worshiping community?
2. When thinking of your church communities – past or present – how do you put together the sunlight and the dust?
Next week: Sunday afternoon drives