Sunday, June 26, 2005

Holy Hospitality

We have this new guy at my church.

He dresses a little...uniquely; you can't miss him. And you can't miss him anyway, because he's appointed himself our church greeter, so that when you leave the sanctuary after the service he's right there at the bottom of the stairs, shaking your hand, saying, "God bless you." And every so often he's moved to stand up during the service and just talk -- usually about God-and-country-gemischt stuff that makes me brux my teeth.

Now, you might be wondering, what sort of Lutherans -- an Ordnung muss sein people if ever there were one -- would let these kind of shenanigans go on during church? I know I thought that, the first time this gentleman held forth during the liturgy. I just don't do worship spontaneity very well...when our kids perform their camp songs with full-body movement for the congregation before the service, I'm the geek adult who just sits there thinking, It's for the's for the's for the children...

So, anyhow, a couple of weeks ago the new guy got The Bag. The Bag is something we instituted several years ago -- when I first started coming to this church they were passing it around, and after a several-year hiatus it's started again. The Bag is a brown paper grocery store bag that members of the congregation are invited to take home with them, fill with three items symbolizing things important to them, then bring The Bag back the next week and explain what they put in The Bag, and why. It's been a catalyst for some amazing stories and self-disclosures; some of our shyest, most unassuming people have had some of the most articulate and moving stories.

But when the new guy got up to talk about the objects in The Bag last week, I found myself holding my breath in trepidation of what was coming next; and I rather suspect I wasn't the only one present doing so. Still, I listened. And what I heard was that this man was a Vietnam vet. His job, during the war, was to accompany body bags back to the States...over and over and over again. One of his mementos was a yellowed commendation letter from a church, thanking him for his presence at the funeral of one of the casualties he'd brought home and accompanied to the dead man's hometown. He also spoke about his faith, about his family's faith history and about how much our congregation meant to him; that after worshipping with us, he knew that this was going to become his church too.

Suddenly a lot of things came together for me.

Jesus tells us that when we welcome an evangelist, a prophet or one of the "little ones," the anawim, in Jesus' name, it's a very good thing.

I think, last Sunday, we won the trifecta.


Kathryn said... lovely to be part of a church that allows people to bring their real selves before God. I love the idea of the The Bag, and also the way in which it helped you to make sense of your Vietnam vet.

bls said...

Wonderful story, LC. People are often deep wells of personal history, and contain so much that's hidden from view. (Maybe "icebergs" is the better analogy? Nine-tenths below the surface?)

I think we all miss this, all the time, on every "side." Thanks for posting this, so I can remember - at least for awhile.

Sheryl said...

Thanks for the reminder that even the most...questionable people on the outside can hold such depth and beauty on the inside.

LutheranChik said...

One of the reasons I hate missing church (more 'bout that later)is that I'm afraid I'll miss one of these "aha!" moments.

Christopher said...

That's great. That's something I'm working on right now, church in all it's messyness, and finding that a blessing. Just really realizing these folk we have now are not Peter, or Paul, or John, but they are church people, just like Peter, or Paul, or John.