Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
‘Your presence is needed today’
Church time last Sunday found me in New Orleans, having given my own congregation a “vacation day.” I stayed at a nice B & B, and was enjoying a nice week “playing tourist” in the Crescent City.
One can never take a vacation from one’s call in Christ, so when the hour for worship arrived I got dressed and headed out for worship, which would be a 10:30 service at a church about two miles from my B & B. Not having had to make any preparations whatsoever other than slipping on my coat and tie, I thought to myself that from this very unfamiliar (to me) “lay person’s” perspective, Sunday church attendance would be a snap. “A real ‘piece of cake,’” I thought to myself, with perhaps just a small mental jab at those slackards I know. I would show them how easily and quickly it is done!
I hopped in the car just as it was beginning to rain. As it happens, my B & B was just a few blocks from the famous street of Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire.” As the rain drops became larger and more insistent, I found the street, and made a mental note that one block away and running parallel is a street called Piety. How interesting that Piety and Desire are so close together, but never come together!
I was thinking to myself how that would make a good sermon when I suddenly noticed that there was a raging torrent in the gutters on each side of my car as I rode down Desire. It was raining really hard by now, with lots of thunder and lightning all around. The streetcar tracks had been pulled up, but you could clearly see where they had lain, creating a raised place in the center of the street, and since there was no traffic, that’s where I steered the car, hoping to keep the brakes dry as I made my way to church.
I had to make several turns, threading my way through the French Quarter and Downtown into the Garden District. By the time I reached Canal, by the Saenger Theatre, I realized how well-named the street is, for it had turned, literally, into a canal — with water up over the sidewalks and sloshing into the store fronts. “At least they would not have to hose down the French Quarter this morning,” I wryly thought to myself.
I decided to follow St. Charles Avenue, since the streetcar runs that route and it would surely be the highest ground. If that is so, God bless St. Charles Avenue, for it seemed to be a lake as I made my way toward Lee Circle.
A gentleman who appeared to know the neighborhood was helpfully standing knee-deep in water directing traffic, and I rolled down my window to ask the best route. He made suggestions, and I steered as best I could, earnestly hoping my car would not be flooded out.
Knowing I would now be late, I somehow still wanted to make this church service. Good sense would have told me to pull over and wait out what was now a hurricane-like storm with more rain than I had ever seen in a city.
Foolishly or bravely I kept on driving only to hear the delighted shout of a child splashing at one corner: “Daddy, look. There are fish swimming in this gutter!”
Somehow, by grace or good fortune, I arrived at the church and found a safe place to park nearby. I ran up the front steps holding an umbrella, where a friendly greeter was waiting to cheer me on. As he gave me a service leaflet, he shook my hand and said, “Good morning, you must be a visitor!” I nodded that he was correct, and he said, “Well, thank you for coming. Your presence is needed today!”
Indeed it was. There were perhaps 20 worshipers (including the ministers and musicians) in this big church — most of the rest, I am sure, were either wise enough not to attempt such risky travel or having found it completely impossible to get there and were stranded somewhere until the rains ceased.
The minister invited us all to sit in the choir’s seats up front, and in that intimate space we had a very nice little service with an excellent sermon and beautiful music.
The congregation was really diverse. The presiding minister was a woman and the two men assisting had their hair in pony tails! Some were dressed casually, others in formal church attire. Several races were represented, and also two families with small children.
The children also assisted in the service, reading the Scripture lessons and offering the prayers. I was delighted to see a congregation that is open-minded, where people do not all look alike, or presumably think alike, and yet welcome each other as Christians.
I guess the Lord wanted to teach me a lesson, for getting to church was not “a piece of cake” as I had smugly and somewhat judgmentally assumed. But the greeter set me right when he said, “Your presence is needed today.” In all our small churches, that is true for each and every one who makes it in. I was glad that even as a stranger I could do my part.
P.S. — By the time church was over, the rain had stopped, all the water had drained away, and the sun was shining brightly!
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