The room had the classic church basement feel—low ceiling supported by strategically placed columns, scattered metal folding chairs. Scott and I stood with a paper plate of danish slices and almond pound cake in one hand and a Styrofoam cup of coffee in the other and surveyed the room. “Where to sit?”—it was always the question. Where was the best place to break in to the space of those already in knowing conversation? We spied two empty chairs and pulled ourselves up to the table. To one side was a burly large man in late-middle-age whose accent told me he was a long-time local. Across from me sat an elderly man, with the thin cord of a hearing aid snaking out of his ear, and a smile that spread across the width of his face. He wore a brown tweed jacket, and I couldn’t help but think how much Scott would love a jacket like that, particularly if it included elbow patches.
The man in the tweed jacket, Ralph, told us about his childhood home in Nova Scotia, about his children and grandchildren, about his career. It turns out they used to use the same type of turbo engine for electricity production that Scott now helps to create. He proudly told us this year he would celebrate 62 years of marriage with his wife. The secret?—”Always say yes,” he told us with a chuckle. When he gave a nod in his wife’s direction across the room, my eyes follow his gesture to see a horseshoe of elderly women seated along the back and side of a long folding table, strategically positioned to eye up the room. I realized then we had plopped ourselves down at what was clearly the “men’s table.” Oops.
We had such a delightful conversation, and our new friend Ralph had some interesting stories to tell. It’s in moments like this that I’m reminded of the beauty of fellowship that spans the generations and of the dignity of having someone to listen to your stories.
When I think of that little New England Church with Ralph—and all of those groups of believers that have profoundly shaped me—I’m struck by the reality that they aren’t out to be the “hippest” church in town, but simply to be the church. They are real life pictures of the people of God humbly and simply living out their lives as the hands and feet of Christ.
I think of the couple, with young children of their own, who have welcomed two infant foster children into their home. I look at their sacrificial love to some of the “least of these” and see the body of Christ at work.
I think of the steady stream of fellow parishioners in the hospital room of a dying woman, praying with her, proving by their presence that she’s loved and not alone, demonstrating to the unbelieving daughter in the corner the power of prayer and God’s presence. I hear of their steady, faithful support and witness and see the body of Christ at work.
I think of the woman who faithfully writes letters to and visits an incarcerated friend of her adult daughter, and of the man who runs a home for men who are freshly out of prison or rehab. I see how they are opening doors for a fresh start and offering friendship, and I see the body of Christ at work.
I think of the men and women who have opened their homes and hearts in order to disciple and mentor Scott and me, of the meetings over coffee, the shared life lessons, the prayers and accountability. I know how they invest their lives in order to see a continuing generation of disciples following Christ in the ordinary day-in-day out of life, and I see the body of Christ at work.
All of these churches, like any others you could find around the world, have their failings, their weird music and awkward traditions, they have ways they reflects the sin and aspirations of men instead of the presence of God. In these churches you will find a group of people sometimes limping, sometimes sprinting along the way of faith and godliness. But when I look at these beautiful motley groups of people woven into a family, I think, “That is the church.”
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