Last night I was ordained as a minister in the Church of the Nazarene. It was a long and arduous journey that began when I was 13 and told my mom, “I think I am going to be a pastor.” The road led through high school where the “I think” became an “absolutely not.” Then I traveled into college where my “not” turned into an “okay, I guess” while working at a summer day camp. A few years later the “okay” became a “yes” while praying at a retreat center in McCall, ID. After that I graduated college and moved to Kansas City where the “yes” became a “definitely” while working at a Rescue Mission. Then last night, the “definitely” became a certainty.
With all that said, yesterday came and went without too much fanfare. We took a few pictures, preceded down the aisle while singing “Holiness Unto the Lord.” We were charged and then listened to a sermon. After the sermon we climbed onto the stage where they laid hands on me. My former youth pastor and dear friend Mike Kipp prayed for me. Then we recessed into the lobby where I was instantly swarmed by too many people to count. They were strangers and friends, former Sunday School teachers and college professors, coworkers and co-ministers with many other mentors and role models. They shook my hand and said, “congrats!” and then they left and it was all over.
I went inside the sanctuary, a sanctuary in which I had grown up, a place that still means a great deal to me. It is a sacred spot where I have spent much time in prayer, listened to many sermons, preached a few myself, met friends and played games, a dear place by all means.
I sat there on the stage for a moment or two. I watched shadows of my former self flit by as memories. I winked and smiled at them and even shed a few tears. Then I drove home, went to sleep and woke up early to be at the church for the remainder of District Assembly.
As this morning went on I noticed a woman there who had been at almost every single event I had attended at the church. She came (and still comes) to every conference, every assembly, every service, every outreach event and every Wednesday night activity. She likes to knit and often just sits in the background with her needles and yarn.
I confess that I do not remember her name but I do remember someone telling me a long time ago that she spent most of her childhood locked in a closet. I have no idea who would do that to her but I believe it is true. She is as awkward and as broken as such a person would be. She does not speak well but she readily engages with any person who looks her way. She accents her words uniquely and says every sentence like it is a question. “I went to the store?” This makes her incredibly difficult to understand and it is often frustrating to try to carry a conversation with her.
She does not drive and so it is not uncommon to see her walking down the road with several full grocery bags hanging from her hands. She often walks over a mile to get to the grocery store. But today she had a three wheeled bicycle. It was a beautiful, bright and shiny blue. It had silver petals and a large basket hanging between the back wheels.
I often have wondered why she is so faithful in her attendance at every church event. I like to think it is because church is the only place she ever feels remotely loved or wanted. I have seen people at that church welcome her, engage her and reach out to her. I think somewhere at a deep and abstract level she is drawn to that community. After all, there is a fellowship unique entirely to the church.
I have also seen people avoid her or brush her off after a few sentences of broken conversation. In fact, several times as a youth I would purposely avoid her because I was in a hurry. I always felt guilty and still do to this day. She certainly deserves all the attention anybody could give her but it was often frustrating to try to understand what she was saying and then to carry on any sort of conversation. And I always had somewhere I needed to be.
Today I went over to her and said, “I love your bicycle!”
She replied in her very unique tone, “It is my fifth.”
“Yes, the other four were stolen.”
“That is horrible. I am so sorry to hear that.”
“One was taken off my front porch. Another from Wal-Mart, another from the lobby of this church. I don’t leave my bike in the lobby any more. I park it around the corner by the gym to hide it.”
“I really am sorry the other four disappeared. But I love this one and I hope it stays around.”
It is ironic that ten hours later I cannot remember why the conversation ended or why I walked away. I probably just did not know what else to offer except that I am heartbroken that four of her bicycles have disappeared.
But as I think about this strange and unique lady, as I think about her faithful participation in the church and her consistent willingness to try her hardest to be an equal part of the faith community, I also ponder my own calling. I am charged to love the church, serve the church, lead the church and to proclaim the gospel in season and out of season.
For this poor, older, orphaned and battered woman there is no off season for the gospel. In fact there is only the constant love of the church and the consistent hope of the resurrection, the sheer optimism that proclaims that a kingdom has come and is coming, a kingdom full of love and joy and peace, a kingdom where the right victor rules and does so with true mercy and justice. As my heart breaks for this woman, I long only for the kingdom where I won’t forget her name and where nobody will steal her bicycle.