Something to offer

August 10, 2011

The Stephens are late again. We've finished the welcome and
the children's message, the first hymn and prayers, the Kyrie and Gloria when
the Stephens finally come through the narrow door of the hundred-year-old
church.

They try to be quiet. They tiptoe in their boots, children
first and then parents. They choose the back row, their usual spot in the pew
on the right. It is not secured to the old wooden floor, so it rocks and
shakes. The floor groans and complains as they move down along the pew aisle.

I pause and then read the scripture. I preach the sermon. We
sing another hymn.

As I sit staring out at this, my new congregation, I wonder
if I can possibly stay here. I'm no match for them--and this is an arranged
marriage.  I started as a supply
pastor. Now I'm the interim pastor. The congregation was recently stung by the
loss of a greatly loved minister, followed by a series of poorly matched
leaders.

Likewise, I've experienced a pretty deep loss. Before I came
to this rural congregation, I served for more than a decade at a wealthy
mountain ski resort an hour away. It is a place of elevated expectations and
exciting new developments, and I was an integral part of church life there. I
felt like I was doing important things, significant things, that would change
the church and its mission.

Now I'm in a river valley where change seems ponderously
slow. The people don't seem to expect much--and so far, I haven't offered them
much of myself.

The prayers of the people begin. The Stephens' pew in the
back starts to thump.

Not again.

I see ten-year-old Mallory at the end of the pew by the
wall. She has gotten up and crossed over the legs of her brother, sister, mom
and dad. She arrives at the aisle and heads out the door.

As I hand the offering baskets to the ushers, I see Mallory
return.  She is carrying a large
cooler, holding the handle with both hands--elbows out--as she once again makes
the journey. She crosses over the legs of the family again, but this time she
is encumbered by the cooler. Everyone has to shift positions, and the entire
congregation turns to look at her.

Honestly, what's next?

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

We share communion. The people return to their seats. We
sing the sending song, and I walk down the aisle to the front door.

I'm ready to say my goodbyes and send the worshipers on
their way when Mallory and her brother Luke appear and stand across from me.
The cooler is large enough to obstruct the aisle.

Luke bends and opens the cooler, which is filled with
cartons of eggs. He lifts a carton, and--with just the right amount of
eight-year-old drama--opens it like a jewelry case and holds it up for me to
see.

"Farm fresh eggs for sale," he says with a grin. "Our
chickens are free range." He knows the lingo.

I look at the eggs, expecting uniform white pearls, a double
strand of eggs in a row. But these eggs are like stones, stones of all shapes
and sizes. Some are brown, some green, some aqua; some have dark spots. Some
don't quite fit in their places. All together, they are beautiful.

"Farm fresh, you say?" Now I am grinning with Luke.
"Save two dozen for me."

I run back to the sacristy and get my wallet. It's a small
moment, but it turns me just slightly toward the congregation. Perhaps we do have
something to offer each other.