Looking at my church family from a wider angle.
I was part of the praise team for this morning’s church service. We sang some beautiful hymns and celebrated the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
When I’m at the front of the sanctuary, I get a different outlook on my congregation than I do from my limited perspective in the pew. A more rounded view. A taste of what pastors experience every Sunday. I see those who sit in the back. And the latecomers. I notice who is smiling and who is enjoying the singing. We had a guest today who was raising her hands. That was surprisingly affirming. Doesn’t happen very often in our church.
From the front, I can see the tech guys up in the balcony. They are crucial to our praise team as they operate the sound and the power point slides. One of them had already given a couple hours of his time at our Thursday night practice. We had been fussing over the arrangement of “Lift up Your Hearts unto the Lord.” We wanted the men to start and the women to join in on the echo. But the digital version doesn’t specify who is supposed to begin, so the first line is usually mangled. Our tech friend took the extra time to work on the slide, adding the highlighted captions “Men” and “Women.” A small task, but a big help.
Our elders sit in the front pew for Communion, close to the praise team. One of them, a former student of mine, had been shoveling snow and spreading salt around when I got to church early for our practice. He joked with me. Maybe I was there to help him? Grinning, I declined, on the grounds of my prior praise team commitment. Several other elders are also former students. One of them, bending forward and leaning in, gingerly navigating the music stands, served the bread and wine to us as we perched on our stools. A bit awkward for him, maybe. A tender moment for me.
The ties that bind
When I survey my church family from the front of the sanctuary, I feel like I know them so well. I know their history, the conflicts and broken relationships. There are faces whose expressions betray a critical spirit. Faces that reveal sorrow. Exhaustion. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the stuff I know. But I also know the other stories, stories of love and help and dependability, evidences of the ties that bind, bright veins winking within the granite.
My church family knows my history, too, all the ups and downs. Some older members no doubt remember the unruly, defiant teenager I once was, the runaway who slouched in the pew and slept during the sermon when she made the occasional effort to attend. There are probably parents in the sanctuary who didn’t appreciate the comments I put on their daughter’s report card or who resented the way I disciplined their son. At times I’ve been frustrated with events and situations in our church. I’ve been outspoken. I’ve said unwise things. I haven’t always walked my talk as teacher, writer, Christ-follower.
But how I adore singing with the praise team. When the nervousness subsides, it’s among my highest joys simply to sing in church. To sing, as we did this morning, with joyous abandon and grateful conviction: “So we share in this bread of life, and we drink of his sacrifice as a sign of our bonds of love around the table of the King.”
From the front of the church I see my family sitting around the table together. I pass the bread and wine. I belong.