The narthex was small and led straight into a petite sanctuary with pews for an intimate Sunday. A portrait of Swedish Jesus hung behind the organ, adorned with its own lighting and a handcrafted frame. I wandered into the chancel and found the red, eternal flame to have a power chord. My fingers played with it gently, flipping it on and off.
The sacristy seemed to double as an office and was empty, so I searched for basement stairs and my appointment. “Hello?” I sang as I descended into the fellowship hall. A friendly-looking man came into view as I got my bearings and I asked if he had seen the pastor that morning. “I don’t know that he’s here yet. Are you going to help us this morning?” It seemed I’d arrived just in time to help fold the monthly newsletter.
“I’m not, actually,” and gave a sheepish smile. “I might be doing a wedding here on Sunday if the weather is grim, so I’m supposed to meet the pastor today and learn the ropes…but I’d love to help with the newsletter, too. My ride might not be back for awhile.” He continued with a firm handshake and introduced himself as Fred. Then he took my coffee cup I’d traveled in with and proceeded to fill it up for the first of many times.
When I found the pastor, it was clear that this was a place of welcome. He told me everything I needed to know about the space, lighting, sound and security. Shame on me, but soon I was hoping for rain.
Since the tour took far less time than I’d anticipated, I headed back downstairs to be useful and to find a refill. “We used to have a third helper and it was much easier that way. I’m so glad you’re here today!” Fred confessed. Jana took the pages from the copier and folded while Fred attached the white circle that seals it closed. I labeled each copy with a recipient and noted the geographical stretch of this little place.
“Is your church very big?”
“Do you have a lot of volunteers at your church?”
“What is worship like there?”
And so a conversation began about membership and what bold stewardship can mean for small congregations. We had plenty in common and shared passions for the communities of faith we hold dear. I learned much from these disciples who believe in their vocations.
The next evening the wind whipped us inside the little church and we celebrated the covenant of marriage with Swedish Jesus looking on. It was beautiful. When the ceremony was over, the doors were opened wide and the wild wind of fall blew inside. The recessional brought waves of music from the string quartet out into the churchyard, showering the graves and fallen leaves with joy.
And as people walked back out into the beautiful and vulnerable weather that is autumn, I reached for the church bell, ringing it with my whole body and all of my delight. A wedding guest approached me later and said, “Have you ever heard the phrase merry as a wedding bell? Because that’s what you are!”
Perhaps that's because the wonders of new people and new vows live on long after you switch off the electric eternal flame and lock up a church that has graced you with its welcome.