Today at the easter services
at St. Anne’s there was the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. There are some people who, for their own reasons, choose to attend services only on Christmas and Easter. Sometimes you might hear them referred to as “Chreasters.” Some people may employ this term pejoratively, but until we have walked a mile in those people’s shoes I would recommend extending welcome instead of judgment. Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals are the biggest evangelical opportunities we have in the church. These are occasions when our sanctuaries are filled with people who may not hear the message of salvation on a regular basis. These are people who may have had negative encounters with the church in years past. They may be people who are struggling with their faith. These are people who might profess another faith all together and who are attending these services out of support or love for family and friends. The point is: we don’t know their story. These are the people for whom the church exists.
I met a lot of so-called “Chreasters” today. There was one woman whom I overheard standing by our bulletin board after the service. There was a job posted on the bulletin board advertising for a new Christian Ed. director at another local church. The woman’s husband said, “Why don’t you apply for this? It sounds like a good job.” To which the woman replied, “God no! If I took that I’d have to get dressed on Sundays!” – I had to laugh. She had just come out from a joyous Easter service with a rousing sermon and her first response to someone indirectly asking her about attending weekly services was “God no!” My first thought was, “Maybe we need a more powerful sermon next time.” (And Jim’s sermon was a home run so I’m not really sure what else he could say!)
There was another woman I met who was elderly. I met her at coffee hour and she told me about her time in Chapel Hill and the church she attended there. She was very involved for years. Her children moved to Reston 25 years ago and she comes up to visit them for Christmas and Easter each year. Her children (and grandchildren) do not attend church except for when she is in town. When Grandma comes to town they all come to church as a family and then have a nice dinner together. Our conversation was interrupted and when I turned back the woman was gone. I was touched by her joy in telling me about her family and the times they come to church together.
Finally, at the latest service today there was a couple sitting in the front row right by the altar. It was a middle-aged man and wife. They caught my eye first during the Gospel reading. The wife was struggling with her program and could not find the reading because she had the pages all out of order. Her husband tried to help her and when it was apparent that it was more disorganized than he suspected he patiently traded programs with her and reordered the pages in the disorganized program. Later in the service the couple caught my eye again during the prayers as the woman began softly weeping and her husband passed her a handkerchief before pulling her towards him. As I was distributing the bread at communion and the couple came forward to receive I noticed, for the first time, what she was wearing. She sparkled from head to toe. Glitter flats, a jeweled bracelet, iridescent earrings, and traces of glitter on her face. I smiled despite myself as I said, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” She locked eyes with me for a moment before consuming the bread. In the reception line after church the woman shook my hand before leaving. She looked sad and did not make eye contact until I said to her, “Your sparkles have made my whole day. Happy Easter!” (you know I’ve got a thing for glitter
.) She held onto my hand, looked me in the eye, and her face split into the widest smile I’ve seen today. “Thank you,” she said. I could literally feel her gratitude.
Each of these encounters was a resurrection opportunity hidden in plain sight. I did not talk to the first woman. I only witnessed her interaction from afar. But embedded in this witness was a gift of knowledge: this woman is out of work. Why don’t I pray for her? My first reaction was to laugh (it was a little funny.) But the more I thought about her the more I realized that I don’t know her story. The second woman was filled with joy as we spoke about her family and their company at services on these holidays. I don’t know whom they are or why they don’t come more regularly, but I do know that they make this matriarch proud and happy when they come to St. Anne’s together. Finally, the woman from the front row: There was a deep sadness in her eyes. There were other seats available in the church. She didn’t have to sit so close, but she chose to. Something tells me there is more to her story that is between her and God. I am grateful that she found her way to church today and hopeful that some of the Easter message of hope shined some light into whatever darkness she is carrying.
|Photo Credit: Cayce Ramey
I felt truly joyous upon leaving church today. I felt the Easter message of triumphant love and a desire to share that love with others. It would be wonderful if our parking lots were so full that we had to overflow parking onto the streets every Sunday. What a great problem it is when we run out of communion bread and need to consecrate extra bread in the middle of communion because so many people have come. But the truth of the matter is: the church is not a building; the church is the people who are charged with carrying this Easter message of love and hope and joy out into the streets. Sure, a few times a year our buildings overflow with wonderful new people with whom we can share God’s message of salvation. But all year round we are supposed to be finding people with whom to share this love. The church is designed to speak to the “Chreasters.” So instead of feeling frustrated with the lack of parking, the new people who are sitting in “our” pew, or the sermon that seemed to go on forever – let’s go forward into this new Easter season thanking God for sending new people to meet. I think sometimes we forget we need to take the Good News outside of our chapel walls and that is why it’s important for for us to greet the “Chreasters:” they remind us that there is church outside of the sanctuary walls.