Thursday, July 29, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
Ministry on back pews of church building
While on vacation, I found myself at a church where I have worshiped before. It is in a town of about 20,000 people — just large enough to be a “big” church, but small enough for the clergy to know everybody.
The church was filled for the morning service. I was a bit late, so I had to take a seat on a back pew. My embarrassment over arriving late quickly turned to amusement, for I know all too well how much my own parishioners covet those back seats. That morning I resolved to take part in the service from a “back pew” perspective.
I was not the last to arrive for the service. For quite a while people came tumbling in. The ushers had given out all the service leaflets, but the clergy were not announcing hymn numbers, etc.
So I took advantage of my pretty good ability to “name that tune” and looked up the hymns in the index and shared the numbers with those around me. Three times people came in and the rows being filled I gave them my seat and moved to a row further back. Eventually I was sitting at the back door in a folding chair beside the head usher!
Soon I heard the cries of a baby as a woman threaded her way from the middle pews back to our area, carrying a shrieking toddler.
The usher rolled his eyes and whispered to me, “This happens at every service. All the child wants is to walk a bit outside.” The child continued to scream and the mother seemed oblivious. She plopped down about ten rows ahead and let the child amuse himself uttering cries and enjoying the echoes of the large, stone room.
I am a great believer that children ought to be in worship, but I do not think it is kind to a baby too young to be reasoned with to keep them in the room against their will. The mother in this case seemed to be disregarding both the comfort of her child and the other worshipers as well.
However, something then occurred that warmed my heart. There was a woman acting as a greeter with the male usher I was sitting beside. When she saw the crying baby and mother, she picked up a little bag and made her way forward, moving in the side aisle. In the little bag were toys, colors, and candy. These items immediately captured the infant’s attention and the rest of the service passed without further unhappiness.
I thought this was a beautiful example of Christian hospitality and resourcefulness. It is the sort of ministry that can go on so helpfully from the back pew. I found myself really enjoying the service from this back row perspective and I thought to myself that the most fulfilling kind of ministry may come at that place, and not necessarily from the pulpit.
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