I bet you know the feeling. You see someone else do the same kind of work that you do or used to do, and, immediately, you see everything that is wrong, the things you could fix or at least improve. That is how it is with pastors when we visit other churches. Well, that’s how it is with me. I’d like to blame it on being a consultant whose job it is to “fix” churches, but the truth is I’ve always been that way.
This past Sunday, as I ended my writing retreat (my new book is entitled Vintage Church, by the way), we went to a Methodist church in Savannah that we have visited often. Over the years, I have spent most of my time there critiquing all that they are doing wrong. Sunday, though, was different. As I sang and prayed and listened to the choir, I was able to appreciate the overwhelming number of things this funky church does so right.
They sang “Happy Birthday” to someone right in the middle of the liturgy. That would have cost me a couple of handfuls of hair, but this woman is in her 90s and was born the year their sanctuary was finished. As they sang to her, I watched her face, which was equal parts mortification and pride. This church that she had seen almost die when she was in her early 70s now is thriving in her 90s. Who knows what role she played in that? Across the aisle from her, a man with a bushy mustache wearing a woman’s Easter hat and lots of jewelry sang to her as if he was serenading his mother or grandmother. The pastor reminded the congregation that this woman shared her birth year with Betty White, and it seems they have a lot in common.
It was a moment of terrible liturgy. As a guest, I didn’t know this woman or have any understanding why, in the midst of divine worship, we would stop to sing an awful ditty that includes the lyric, “Happy birthday dear [insert name of woman I don’t know].” It was terrible worship … but wonderful church. For a moment, I didn’t miss my own church quite so much because we were part of a community that was made possible, in part, by the tenacity of a saint whose name I don’t know.
I wonder if, when we are in our 90s, we will be part of a community we helped to build, or at least kept alive until help could arrive. I wonder what our true legacy will be …