When the Small Church Shines

[Note:  I’ll be on vacation for the next couple of weeks and will take a brief break from this blog.]

For the small church, it’s easy to get caught up in worries. Parishioners are fretful about the future, about our ability to pay the bills, about how many are coming to worship, and how many will be in the choir come fall. It can also be easy, then, to lose sight of those moments when the small church shines.

For Old South, one of those especially good, shining Sundays was this past Sunday, August 7.

I should explain first that Old South depends quite a lot on an open “sign up” (with the actual lists in the church vestry and online). People sign up for a whole range of duties for individual Sundays—greeting, reading the psalm of the day, leading the start of worship, providing special music during the summer months when the choir is on hiatus, providing hospitality, and assisting with worship duties (known as the “worship assistant”).   The worship assistant (or two) is in place of what used to be done by the Deacons. At Old South, we no longer have Deacons. Now, it’s an open system, where anyone can sign up to help get the sanctuary ready for Sunday morning worship, including the preparation (and serving) of communion on the first Sunday of the month.

This past Sunday, we had a couple who just started worshiping with us this summer, in the role of greeters. My seventeen-year-old son read the psalm of the day. The Worship Assistant role was actually the work of several people. Someone who’s a relatively new member of the church had asked about serving communion. She had never served communion at Old South, although she had done so at a previous church. A couple of former deacons offered to help her out, in setting up the communion table and talking her through the role.

We also had James, a five-year-old who attends worship with his grandmother. James likes to “help” me, mostly by sitting with me in the chancel or standing with me when I’m speaking.

Finally, we had a retired American Baptist pastor who attends Old South with his wife while they are in Maine for the summer months. During the offering, Steve sang a song that he had written himself years ago. It happened to go nicely with Sunday’s homily, in which I encouraged us, as a church, to focus on faithfulness and on our ministry, to try to let go of our fretfulness. By the end of the song, Steve’s voice was cracking with emotion.

It was a good Sunday. At Old South, this is not a rare occasion. Lots of Sundays are good Sundays. Yet, we often fail to stop for a moment and recognize these shining Sundays, and to be grateful for them, knowing that we as a community of faith, were drawn closer to each other and the God whom we worship.

I’m about to go on vacation, so perhaps I was feeling especially mindful of the significance of taking note of a good Sunday, since I’ll be away for several Sundays. In the meantime, I’ll hold onto some of Steve’s lyrics and I’ll be grateful for the small church that I call home:

When the storms of life assail my boat and I find it hard to stand,
My Lord, He holds the tiller in his great and mighty hand.
In his great and mighty hand, in his great and mighty hand…
My Lord, he holds the tiller in his great and mighty hand.

And when the rocks of doubt appear to rend my boat in two,
His voice cries out, “Hang on hang on”, I’m here to steer you through!
I’m here to steer you through, I’m here to steer you through…
His voice cries out, “Hang on, hang on”, I’m here to steer you through!

I set my sails unto the skies, and sail through unknown seas,
My Lord is there to be my guide, a faithful friend indeed.
A faithful friend indeed, a faithful friend indeed…
My Lord is there to be my guide, a faithful friend indeed.
(“My Lord, He Holds the Tiller,” lyrics by the Rev. Stephen Tolander)

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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