During a recent visit to an evening church service, I notice two things. First, the church uses a fog machine during its worship service. I don’t begin to understand this. By the end of worship the air is thick and I wonder if my daughter’s asthma could handle it, were she with me. But that’s a petty distraction.
The second thing I notice is the large number of young men in attendance. In truth the service is a pretty diverse gathering of ages and genders, but the boys just old enough to be my grown sons catch my eye. I didn’t expect them, and I realize I have come to believe men of a certain age don’t trouble themselves much with church these days. They’re out working, says I, socializing, getting educated, finding purpose. Or perhaps goofing off.
Not these guys. They’re present. They’re singing their hearts out.
Worship ends. The pastor announces that we’re going to pray for the people of the Philippines, who are still reeling from the blow of Typhoon Haiyan. We are to “gather in groups of three or four” and pray communally. I’m sitting alone. I stand up and begin a slow turn, looking for a group to join. Nearby is a threesome of people my age, eyes already closed, mouths already moving. I make the stuttering steps of someone who thinks she could probably lurk on the edge of their circle, participating without intruding.
Then I see someone coming toward me. He is one of the many young adults populating this place. He comes from the back of the room. He has to go out of his way, around other people, to get to me. When he arrives he reaches out and takes my hand.
He says, “You look like you could use a group.”
And then he leads me back to his friends, where they are already four and I make five, the middle-aged mama in her frumpy jeans and winter coat. I am a juniper bush in a circle of redwoods. These guys tower over me, and I’m not short. I am already stunned to be invited into their ring, but then they take the time to introduce themselves to me, to learn my name, the one who doesn’t belong.
Their prayers are rich and sincere. They make me weep.
Sometimes I get to be on the receiving end of strangers’ generosity. These young men who reached out to me busted through a bit of cynicism I didn’t even know I had. They welcomed me though I didn’t “fit” and in so doing expanded my own perception of how God works.
Yeah, this week of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for twenty-something guys who don’t keep God’s love to themselves.
I didn’t have the chance to ask them but they probably think the fog machine is cool. And if they do, by all means, the church should keep the fog.
What’s something you love about the way your church welcomes strangers?
Photo by Adam Rozanas