A very good friend of mine writes fairly regularly for a major newspaper. In a recent column, she included a brief reference to a trip to a museum and made note of an exhibit that she saw with her wife. Not included in the column was the fact that there was a third person there— me. I’m sure there were lots of good reasons not to include me in what was a minor part of a lengthy column, including word count and the needless complication of explaining the weird friend who was also present. Still, it felt odd, and disconcerting, to discover that I had been completely left out— as if I hadn’t been there at all.
I was probably sensitive to this point because I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what it means to be seen, particularly in a church/faith setting. It’s one of the things that small churches are usually able to do well. Since there are not a lot of people, it’s much easier to see everyone, and to pay attention to each one in the group. Yet, this is a component of the life of the small church that is generally not fully appreciated— in the community itself and beyond.
During a conversation with one of our newer members at Old South, she shared a troubling experience at her former church. While Central Maine is not exactly home to anything that can be described a “mega” church, the area has one or two churches that are considerably larger than the others. This newer member had been actively involved in one of these large churches. One Sunday, standing in the lobby of the church, she watched several people walk past her, one after another. Not one of them spoke to her. Not one of them seemed even to notice her, even in a small way. In her move to Old South, one of the most significant aspects of her early visits was that she was seen by others, and acknowledged.
In accounts of the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Gospel writers include many occasions where Jesus saw people. And, he didn’t just notice them casually. He saw them in ways that were meaningful and compelling. Consider the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman who had suffered with hemorrhages for twelve years, and the man who asked about eternal life, In all of these stories (and others), Jesus saw people, and into people, in ways that offered hope and healing, if the person chose to open themselves to Jesus, his teaching and his presence.
Acknowledging individuals and being attentive to each one was something that marked the earthly ministry of Jesus. It must also mark the ministry of communities of faith who claim to follow him.
In a small church— whether we do it in an intentional way or not— we see people. We notice them and, more than that, show our care for them. Sometimes there’s a fine line between being attentive and being nosy, but I think the folks at Old South manage that line well.
This is not simply a nice thing that we do, but a foundational piece of our ministry of presence as we seek to be the Body of Christ, where not even one should feel invisible.