Welcome to Church
A faint ringing in the ears forced an inevitable pause in Mark’s Sunday morning. Standing outside of an historic, renovated theatre, Mark had been engaged in conversation alongside other volunteers preparing for their weekly gathering time. The gathering on some occasions was a homogenous roll call of arrangements and readings for like-minded and like-attired citizens, but nevertheless it was a once-every-7-days kind of reminder to Mark that there was more to his life than going to class and acting with class to impress the people he tended to be around. Suppressing the ringing in his ears with a palm on his temple, Mark looked down the street to see two men walking towards the theatre, appearing to come from nowhere, or at least from a different part of town than Mark was used to encountering.
The autumnal breeze scattered fallen foliage along the street side, seemingly sweeping up the feet of these two visitors in an intentional direction towards the front doors of the theatre. Mark gave the two men a once-over while they were approaching. Hair disheveled, the shorter gentleman had a walking stick in his right hand while his left hand was locking arms with the taller man next to him. Noticing the shorter man was avoiding eye contact with anything much less anyone, Mark thought to himself, “Why on earth would a blind man be coming to this building?” When his assigned duties kicked in, Mark took a few steps towards the two gentlemen, extended his hand, and asked, “Are you lost?”
When we deliberately choose the text to be emblazoned across the front of the shirt—perhaps the first words seen as a guest steps out of their car—we are Church.
We are Church when we feel comfortable with the people around us (the common interests, the acquaintances from our college years, the parents of the third basemen on our kid’s coach-pitch team, etc.).
We are Church when we feel uneasy about who may be left out (the single mom who doesn’t quite fit the categories on the Visitor card, the Neighbor who doesn’t think he’ll fit in, or perhaps myself for not matching my shoes with my shirt).
We are Church when we offer a warm cup of coffee or a cold cup of water. We are Church when we spill said refreshment during worship.
With mud tracked in from walking through the field to get to the doors at our Sunwest Campus, we are Church when we each come with the mess of our life to be reminded of hope for the rest of our life.
No matter how many people are in the room or how many inches are between you and the stranger a few seats over, we are Church when we are gathered to be in the presence of God, full of praise for transcendence yet scary close through immanence.
We are Church when we are at our most ironic (the blind seated with an optometrist, the lost next to a guidance counselor, the lame next to the fitness instructor) and when every person recognizes they have come to the right place because they have found a comfortable seat and a comforted soul.
For each song we don’t know yet pretend to follow along with under our breath while totally off beat, there’s another that we recognize within the first five notes because we are Church and “that’s our jam.”
We enter the service empty-handed, yet we carry a burden as we look up the sermon passage on the same phone we’ve used to look at ungodly images. Since we are Church, we pray today’s text is a passage to freedom, whether it’s in the form of a slide projecting a holy discontent on you, a touchscreen touching your innermost being, or the thin pages of a preferred translation thick with Truth.
We “greet those around us” because we’re Baptist weird, and our memory recall for all the names we just met is about as responsive as the verbal (and non-verbal) cues we offer during the sermon, but Church is weird and we keep being sanctified in our peculiarity.
Names of others may elude us, but Church is a regular reminder of dear friends like Peace, Kindness, and Faithfulness.
We are Church when we are not even known by that name, but rather by Grace.
We arrive late and miss part of the announcements or maybe even part of the sermon when the staff really tricks out the service order, because we are Church and are not restricted to a time much less a place.
We are out the doors before you can say, “Benediction,” because we are Church and we’re supposed to be scattered about the city.
At the Downtown Campus, we are Church when an empty-nester forgoes his chance to be in worship in order to give a ride to a vagrant in need… and yet the church member still finds himself in conversation with God as much as a conversation with a stranger, and it adds up to be a symphony of heaven’s song like an unavoidable ringing in his ears.
The ringing in the ears is the Voice speaking a better word to our hearts through a sermon, a song, a spoken confession in Life Group, or complete silence as the nexus for another week, a fresh start, and a new creation in Christ Jesus.
At HEB, we are Church when we see someone else wearing a Harris Creek shirt and we smile at one another even though both of us are thinking “I’ve never seen them before in my life,” but the smile exchange is more for the people nearby than the two shirt-mates.
As Church, we are all together separate, yet all together one.
As Church, we are not the first, and we’re less concerned about who will be last and more concerned about who’s got next. It’s OUR TURN to redefine Church in our world.
No matter what you’ve experienced before with someone somewhere that has left you burnt out and jaded from the complacent, political, normalcy of institutionalized religion, we invite you take a turn at living as one marked with the Spirit, as one member of Church.
No matter how you’ve been greeted, seated, or treated by Harris Creek before, there’s a new season ahead, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to make you feel a word on our shirt: WELCOME.
When his assigned duties kicked in, Mark took a few steps towards the two gentlemen, extended his hand, and said, “You’ve come to the right place.” The smile on his face hinged wider when he reached outward and swung open a door. Other friends of Mark escorted the gentlemen through the lobby, each with a nametag to denote their duty for the morning. Joy clutched balloons but freely released her enthusiasm for the gathering. Hope’s sincere offer of a printed handout was much weightier than a half-page of cardstock could contain. After getting a cup of coffee for the tall man, Mark walked toward the left side of the theatre and stepped behind the gentlemen just as a young lady named Grace was opening a roped off section of seats, saying, “Come on in. I saved you each a seat.”