A mid-week gathering at the big church this week, my first one, opens with pizza and breadsticks, cookies, water, lemonade, or coffee. Afterwards the kids are given over to the care of volunteers in the well-appointed children's ministry area. Adults move from the tables in the church-meets-caribou coffee area near the entrance into the the centrally-located worship space.
The worship space is arranged differently from the Sunday experience. Most of the comfortably upholstered chairs are missing. Tonight we sit in the center section, cozy but not too crowded. The emptied spaces to our right and left are filled with round white tables accompanied by black chrome-and-plastic chairs. The tables are clean and plain, new enough that table clothes are not required. At the center of each table is a basket or visually pleasing plastic container -- but I get ahead of myself.
The teaching pastor is standing up front. Three large panels backlight the stage. To his left and a good distance behind him are a guitar and a microphone. His bible and a computer notebook rest on a tall table that acts as a lecturn in a lighter, more accessible way. To his right and forward is a screen that reads: Understanding God's Will: Compass v. Blueprint. I am pleased and intrigued, having heard him teach one Sunday and finding grace and truth in the message. The people in the seats surrounding me are quiet and listening. I am listening, watching and taking notes.
He teaches a five-point message, weaving together scripture from Deuteronomy, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Matthew, Luke, James and Proverbs. He closes in prayer and asks us to reflect. Sufficient and suitable time passes as we sit in silence, then another man walks onto the stage, a musician. He picks up the guitar and moves the microphone forward, then begins playing as lyrics are displayed on the screen. Those of us gathered stand and sing -- worshiping, reflecting -- perhaps silently praying, asking forgiveness, accepting grace. At the close of a second song we are invited to move to the tables for communion. The basket at the center of the table where I am seated contains communion elements in prepackaged individual portions and a postcard with simple instructions: introductions then communion, read included scriptures -- Jesus' words from Matthew: this is My Body, this is My Blood.
The sting of tears alerts me to the tenderness of my lonely and broken heart. I miss the crusty loaves of bread passed from hand to hand, all in attendance at worship standing in a circle, diversity and unity, humanity sharing communion together, sharing life together.
This morning -- the morning after -- as I reflect on the big church mid-week experience I understand that there is structure and efficiency necessary to serve increasing numbers of people, to invite newcomers, to grow a Christ-centered community this size: 1200 people each weekend. There is not enough time nor humanity within the lead pastor and the teaching pastor to be fully engaged with everyone. The connection I once enjoyed in the intimacy of a smaller congregation cannot be sustained at the macro level. The tables for communion offer opportunity for micro communities within the big church. I understand, yet it feels foreign, unwelcoming.
Tears here, flowing again. I so miss being fully known and loved as I was at Fellowship. Did I offer that to others? I hope so.
I can't ascertain the truth alone; there is difficulty. Seeing myself as others experience me is clouded.
Photo: Daniel Schwen, 2011