Early this week a woman from my congregation stopped by and said she needed to talk to me. She told me about a couple in her neighborhood that she visits. They are somewhat shut in, so she has been checking on them and visiting with them to make sure they are okay. Lately, the husband has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She asked him if he wanted a pastor to come and visit him. As it turns out, he had an affiliation with our denomination earlier in his life, and when she asked him, he got tears in his eyes. She wondered if I would be open to paying them a visit.
Not too longer before that, a man from my congregation mentioned that his family had taken a single mom and her son under their wing. They have gotten to know each other. The mom has to leave early in the morning for work, before her son has to get up to catch the bus for school. So sometimes this man will go and knock on their door in the morning to make sure her son is up and ready for school.
Recently our congregation completed a modest capital drive. For part of our capital drive, we finished a modest face-lift of our sanctuary. Now that we're done, we're asking, what's the next step? We are talking about the necessity to reach out in our community in new ways -- to know our neighbors, and think of ways that we can meet the felt needs in our community. We are not a large congregation, but we know that we need to be a part of our neighborhood, know our neighbors, and care about them in real and concrete ways.
In the middle of thinking about what our "church" could do, I thought about these two small encounters that I knew about -- the woman who visits her shut-in neighbors, the family who has befriended a teen-age boy and his mom. How many other unseen encounters are there in my congregation, just like these?
It's easy to focus on the things we can see. In fact, it pretty much all we can do. I can see the people who come to make supper for the homeless families who stay at our church a few times a year. I can tell you all of the names of those who help serve communion or help with the children's church or make breakfast one Sunday a month. I am grateful for the quilters who gather on Fridays, the altar guild who prepare the altar on Saturdays, the Bible study leaders who meet in homes.
But it suddenly occurred to me that so much may be going on that I cannot see, and that because I don't see it, I don't honor it, and make sure people know how important it is, and that this is a part of their calling to love their neighbor.
I keep reading things about how the church is too inwardly-focussed, too much worrying about maintaining their property and membership and comfort, and not enough focussed on their neighbors. But maybe part of the problem is that this is what we can see -- but there is so much going on that we can't see and don't notice.
The same person who tells me she doesn't know what it means to be outwardly focussed -- just got home from going to the funeral of a neighbor's son. She didn't know that what she was doing was ministry.
I noticed recently that a woman had not been to church for awhile. In fact, it occurred to me that I had only seen her in church when she had a role in worship. I will admit that my first thoughts were that she only thought it was important to come when she had to do something, but instead I decided to email her and ask how she was doing.
I found out that she had been through so many stresses in the past few months, illnesses and deaths in her family, people she was supporting with presence and prayer. I had no idea. So much of her life was unseen to me.
This is the church. Seen and unseen. But so much unseen. Except by God. The One who has planted us deep deep down in the world, from which we do spring up.