COLUMN: Ed Olfert — Sept. 20, 2012

Ed Olfert
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It’s intriguing (to me anyway) that a Sunday morning worship service is so critical to my well being. I find myself opening myself, my senses, to discover the prime reason why I am there on a given Sunday, the moment that most sparkles in its spiritual reward, along with all of the other moments that cluster around it. That moment is delightfully different each time, and the anticipation of it is a big part of what makes the worship hour so good.

It might be in words said, a prayer offered, the words or melody of a song, it might also be caught in a look shared between two people, an observation of love between a child and parent or grandparent, the courage to share a hurt or a joy with the congregation.

Take last Sunday, for example. I started the morning by taking part in a discussion about sex and sexuality. Our discussion group is studying the writings of a celibate Catholic priest, and his passion and intensity are infectious. We discussed the implications of his definition of “chastity,” which he equates with reverence and awe. The conversation fairly snapped with lively conversation and hints of new learnings. I appreciate that we are not driven to agree with the author, or with each other. Probably your sexuality had best be at a pretty healthy place if you plan to join us.

Then we moved into the sanctuary proper, and I moved into my usual seat near the front. We have a bit of a non-traditional seating arrangement, and my vantage point provides me with a view of the folks as they enter and take their place.

Minutes before the service began, I discovered my moment, the reason why I needed to be there that morning. Seated in the back corner, in the tiny booth where sound/recording things are managed (our service is sent to members in China as well as to folks in far off corners of Canada) was “Ben,” the person who is usually in charge of our technical matters. Seated beside him was “Frank.”

Frank is a young man who began attending our services some months ago. He is a single person, who appears to be searching for wholesome community. (Perhaps unfortunately, he found us instead.) Those who have spent time with Frank find him to be warm and friendly.

With growing trust, we are invited into his story. We have taken some deliberate steps to show that Frank is important to us.

And now, Frank was sitting next to Ben, obviously invited to give a hand and to learn something about the array of switches and dials and instruments before them. Frank looked pleased, excited. I was moved by Ben’s gift to Frank, gift to our community, gift to God. The two heads together in the corner captured my morning moment of holiness.

Ben himself is one who came searching for community probably 15 years ago. He came out of politeness to hear a choir that included a cousin. He has never left, has moved into our most intimate places, is greatly loved and valued.

In the opening prayer, the leader prayed that we move beyond being “a cozy family.” The words gave me a frame for the picture I had noted, a frame for most of the things that make Sunday mornings so rewarding, the things that make life good.

The Old Testament refers often to the true test of faithful community as being how marginalized folks experience that community. The words used refer repeatedly to “widows, orphans, and aliens.”

Surely that translates into simply folks who lack any kind of support. The New Testament, the life and ministry of Jesus, parallels that theme as well. The biggest, most faithful, and the most transforming gift the church has to give is the gift of unreserved acceptance. Ultimately, it is the only gift that can change the world.

Church stuff is pretty simple, really.

Geographic location: China, Canada

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