Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. Last year a friend referred to the church as the island of misfit toys. I laughed at the reference but it also touched me deeply. That is exactly what a church should be---a place for authenticity, where nobody is perfect, shiny and flawless. A place where the quirks are accepted and even celebrated. (As I remarked to the family when we watched Rudolph earlier this week, "I would love any of those toys. OK maybe not the squirt gun that shoots jelly, but the cowboy that rides an ostrich? The bird that swims? Charlie in the box?")
Sadly, too many of our congregations look more like FAO Schwartz.
I've been to some great gatherings this year, but when I considered this prompt, I thought about a special service our congregation hosted last month, a Service for Wholeness and Healing. In most ways it bears little resemblance to a party. But it "rocked my socks off," in the words of the prompt.
This was a new thing for Tiny Church. I wasn't sure what the response would be, but I knew there was a need. We've got a lot of people who are hurting, concerned for loved ones, caring for aging spouses, and so forth. Presbyterians aren't of the fall-on-the-floor-be-HEALED ilk, but we do believe that there is great comfort and renewal in coming together, sharing concerns and places of brokenness, and being prayed for by the community. And we believe that healing and wholeness can come in mysterious ways, whether a person is cured or not.
When you throw a party, you have no idea who will come. There's that moment, 20 or so minutes before it starts, when the high-school insecurity kicks in and you think "Nobody's going to show. I've made all these preparations, and this thing's gonna bomb and it's gonna be me in this big empty room by myself."
But people showed. It was one of the best-attended evening services we've had over the past year, including Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Only Christmas Eve was better attended.
People brought a little something---offerings of themselves to share with the group. A woman sang a solo that flowed over us like the Balm of Gilead---all the more remarkable given that she had buried a parent just a few weeks prior. The song she chose was a piece that a member of the church had requested that we sing in worship, but it just hadn't fit. It wasn't going to work.
That member happened to be there to hear it.
I had enlisted a few folks to help me get ready. I did this mainly so I'd know that at least some people would be there. One elder wanted to be one of the pray-ers. He'd never done anything like it, but he was drawn to the idea. We took turns, so I was able to watch him receive people as they came forward, sharing whatever it was they wanted to share.
He had written some prayers and scripture verses on small slips of paper, I think because the idea of praying extemporaneously worried him. But as people came forward, the cards stayed in his pocket, and he went with the flow. It was lovely. I was reminded of all the times I have overprepared for a party, then realized that I didn't need that extra stuff. I just needed to be present to the guests.
One person had written down concerns on index cards because there were so many. Another person, a very practical, no-nonsense type, reported afterward that she'd heard the voice of the Spirit whispering to her, a simple message that has sustained her.
I love a good party. And I've been to a few this year, although parties aren't as big a part of the social repertoire as they were before children. And our little service was nothing like a party, in a way.
There were no belly laughs. But I felt lighter when I left.
There was no lavish spread of food, unless you count a chalice and a loaf of bread as lavish. And I do.
And yes, there were some shenanigans there. They just took place on a level beyond seeing.