It is the kind of story that will keep a pastor awake at night.
The call came Sunday afternoon from a friend in another state. We had been talking for a while, with me encouraging her to find a church. She grew up going, has a lot to offer, and being in a new place, she could use the community. I had recommended several good churches in her area, but to no avail. She is young, and going to a new place…well, it was a bit too intimidating right now.
But last week she decided to give it a try. Maybe it was my prodding, maybe it was the first big dose of homesickness, maybe it was the movement of the Holy Spirit, or a combination of them all—but on Sunday she got up, got dressed and headed to church.
She arrived early, asked for directions to the sanctuary, and even found a greeter (or at least a person with a nametag!) She said that she was new and needed some directions, and was pointed to the restrooms, and the sanctuary, and the person said, “I guess we’ll see you inside!”
She made her way into the strange new room, found a seat and waited for the service to begin.
But mainly she was waiting for someone to speak.
The service began. But still no one spoke.
She called that afternoon, so upset, so homesick, so discouraged. She had done what she needed to do, but the church had not. She loved the sermon and the service. But will she go back?
The verdict is out.
I had so many reactions! First I was so proud of her for battling through the inertia that keeps so many people her age from church. It is easier just not to go, but for some reason she went. Something inside said she needed to be there. That made me happy!
But I was so angry! This is a wonderful young person, the kind of person that churches would love to have. But no one spoke to her! I am sure that they didn’t want to intrude; they didn’t know she was there for the first time; they had their own friends to talk to, their own children to corral, their own worship to prepare for.
But what about her?
What about the Church, not just this one, but THE church?
And then came my fear. Has that happened in our church? Are there people who come in and never get spoken to; who leave feeling invisible, unrecognized, unwanted? Have we failed them? Who might we have lost? Who might the church have lost?
It is the kind of conversation that will keep me awake at night.