Given that my spot during worship is at the front facing the congregation, I get a great view of everything that is going on in the sanctuary, except for the choir area behind me. While that area can be a source of interruptions, it is more normal for the interruptions to happen in front of me.
So, when the visiting grandchild starts acting out their boredom, I get to watch the grandparents struggle to cope. When the busy farmer drops off to sleep because worship is the longest time he has sat still in weeks, I see and empathize. I am used to interruptions and so was prepared for what happened at a recent worship service.
We were about 30 minutes into the service and I was just getting into the introduction to the sermon when I heard a noise at the front door. Since all our regulars were either present or accounted for (one of the benefits of a small congregation), I thought that we were having visitors. Visitors are always nice, even when they come during the sermon when the service is half over.
I was on the wrong side of the pulpit to actually see the door so in the course of preaching, I casually moved enough to see the door. As it opened, someone peeked around the side of the door, saw me and quickly closed the door and left. I actually wasn’t surprised that the visitor left–in that brief time his face was visible, I recognized who it was.
He wasn’t an actual late coming visitor coming to check out our worship. He was a local resident well known for showing up at worship services and asking for money to help out his family. The latest request tends to be for gas so his wife can get to work. How do I know that?
Well, I have been pastor in this area for years and have worked with three generations of this family and with him directly. He had actually called me a few weeks previously asking for money. But since I knew that he had been making the rounds of local churches (one of the benefits of good relationships between churches) and that one pastor was offering to help the family with budgeting, I told him that I couldn’t help.
I know that he has been visiting local churches for a while looking for money. I had worked with him and his family a lot over the years and have seen this pattern and process first hand. I expect that his visit to our worship service was made in ignorance of the fact that I am the pastor–the church hasn’t got around to replacing the name of the previous pastor yet. When he saw me, I think he realized that he was unlikely to get help that day.
The irony of the situation is that my sermon theme was that healthy churches seek to serve God by serving their community. I am not at all sure what I think of this interruption during this particular sermon. I think I handled the initial request wisely and graciously. I am aware that I reached my limit with this particular family quite a while ago. I am also aware that others have stepped in and tried.
But as my sermon progressed, part of my mind was processing the interruption and my response. What is my responsibility to this individual and his family? How do I serve God in my relationship with him? I didn’t get too far in the process because the sermon does take most of my focus. But I did decide that the family isn’t starving at this point–I know that they both have jobs. I re-affirmed my decision not to give money. And I decided that if he was sitting in his car waiting for us to be done to ask for money, I would offer budgeting help again hoping that this time, it would take.
Well, worship finished and by the time I actually got out the door, the parking lot was empty so I didn’t have to deal with any requests for money. I can’t say I was upset with that, just as I can’t say I am upset with my response to the situation. I decided that the issue for me isn’t that I don’t want to help, it is that I don’t want to help in a way which reinforces the present situation. I want to offer something that will help change things which to me seems a much better option.
May the peace of God be with you.