This is a tale of 2 churches. But it is not a rant…it is a rave.
9AM–I walk into church, babe in tow. It is not perfect by any means. The parking is small, the entryway dark and cluttered with ladders and rock salt. The plaster needs repaired and there are a few light bulbs that need replaced. I am known there, this is a significant matter. I cannot get past the entryway, as people crowd me and tickle Anna’s feet. Anna looks back in interest and pleasure. Being on Family Leave, I have not seen this crowd in several weeks.
Worship was unremarkable. A snafu voided our bulletins. The liturgist did well to lead us in a Psalter and get us singing. “Crown Him With Many Crowns” was simple and good. During the passing of the peace, more tickling of Anna’s feet and very joyful greetings. There was a fantastic children’s message. The kids have begun journaling and even have been making props for next week’s lesson: life-sized puppets of themselves. The sermon was solid, intelligent and affirming. After worship, continued greeting and feet-tickling. As I have gone through the day, I have swam on the feeling of legitimate affirmation. It was even more awesome as the affirmation mostly about Anna, but not to the point where I felt invisible. I experienced blessing. To the point that I can’t wait to get back to Highland Park UMC.
11AM–I had planned on worshiping elsewhere, so I got to BigChurch late. I walked in, baby on tow to a much different place. I got a back row seat, against the wall. I saw some places, but no one showed me or offered to guide me. I was clearly a newcomer. The passing of the peace was loud, but mostly because of the volume of people. No one greeted me. There was a back-to-school-means-you-should-go-back-to-Sunday-School lesson for the children’s message. It was unimaginative, devoid of laughter or meaning. It was a typical children’s message.
About 2 minutes into the sermon (on the travails of sex, alcohol, gambling and media) Anna started to stir. I knew she needed a diaper and was in need of attention. I got her out of her car seat. She always fusses getting out of the car seat, but is otherwise the most serene and happy baby you could ask for. But this minute she fussed and…come on, you know…I got the evil eye. It was one of the ushers. I know what I want out of church. As a pastor I have standards, even for churches that are not mine. I put Anna in the car seat and proceeded to leave. Why allow someone to piss on my already-blessed day. She intercepted me, perhaps wanting to redeem herself (which I ought to honor). Would you like to go to the nursery? At 4 months old, I am currently unwilling to give Anna to a stranger. I’m just not ready emotionally. But I allowed her to show me, which she then directed me to the cry room. I changed Anna’s diaper and gave her a bottle. I could hear the preacher mumbling, but I couldn’t make anything out. After Anna got settled, I packed her up and left. I did not go to church to sit in a room by myself.
Someone recently said: If I can’t preach over a baby, I ought to give up preaching. I took that country wisdom a lot more seriously today. BigChurch will get a lot of cred in the conference, and not undeservedly. Highland Park may very well be closed within 10 years. But there is something fundamentally right about a church that rejoices in babies. I was so proud of Highland Park UMC.
I confess some over-the-top judgment on my behalf. In my heart, I accused Big Church of capitulating to the complaints of adults who don’t want babies in worship. I even hypothesized that the cry room is an affront to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Didn’t he say, Let the children come to me?
Again, this story is about Highland Park UMC. They have a lot of issues. But boy, do they know how to love.