I spent all day last Monday, at the Maine High School Class B State Swim Meet, held at the Greason Pool at Bowdoin College. My daughter is co-captain of her small girls swim team from Waterville High School.
In the arena of points and standings, the Waterville girls did not do well. Only two of them had even qualified for the preliminaries in individual events, and neither did well enough on Monday to advance to the evening finals. But, the 400 free relay team did qualify for the finals, in the consolation heat. That event is, of course, the very last event of the meet.
The team ended up finishing 13th overall in the 400 free relay. But, the Waterville girls got a big surprise at the end of the meet. They were honored with the Sportsmanship Award.
I have no idea of the actual reasoning behind this award going to the Waterville team, but I’d like to think that one of the reasons was what the Waterville girls did for one of the swimmers at the event, a girl who swims with the local YMCA (so some of the Waterville girls know her), but is the only swimmer to represent her high school.
State swim meets, as in any high school sports event, celebrate not only the athletes, but also the pride and identity of Maine high schools. In the stands, parents wear matching high school t-shirts featuring school colors. It can be a difficult place, then, for a lone swimmer—especially a swimmer who is a very good swimmer. There’s a lot of pressure, but no large cheering squad, no real communal experience of team identity.
But for that one lone swimmer on Monday evening, Waterville became her cheering squad. They yelled and screamed so much for her that a couple of them didn’t have much a voice by the end of the evening.
There’s a lesson here for struggling churches. We really need to find a way to let go of our own concerns about our own selves, and our concerns about our small numbers and our fretfulness about our “success,” or lack thereof (at least in the terms of the world). We need to find a way to let go of our concerns and fears about how or why we’ve gotten smaller than we once were.
And, we then we need to reclaim our voice as the “cheering squad” for the lost, lonely, and marginalized. There are so many people—and some of them successful people, by the standards of the world—who are lonely, lost, even marginalized. And, then there are those who really are living on the edges of society—the poor, the homeless, the severely mentally ill, for instance. These people need someone to notice them, to encourage them, to show them the love of God.
That’s our calling—to show the love of God. We should worry less about how many are showing up for worship on Sunday, and worry more about how well we share the love of God. Our calling is to show the love of God with reckless, and enthusiastic, abandon.