44-Presbyterian 3

“Obedient in Faith, we intend to work together to touch the lives of others and be disciples of the Lord.”

March 15, 2020, 9 AM

I decided on the early service at this beautiful old, stone church to avoid as many people as possible. The Coronavirus outbreak had everyone on edge and almost everything shutting down. Tonight would be our last dinner out for a while, although we didn’t know it yet.

I sat in one of the back pews which were aligned in a semi-circle around the altar area, making the space feel more intimate than traditional churches. I wondered if this was considered progressive back in the day. I couldn’t find anything about the history of the church and there wasn’t much information for visitors on the web page. From the architecture and the huge stained glass windows, I figure the church had to have been built in the early 1900’s.

The pastor was wiping down the wooden pew arms and back rails with bleach water. She came very close to where I was sitting and said something like, “sorry about the smell.” Okay, I know it’s a crazy time, but with only about twenty-five parishioners at the service, my guess is she could tell I was a visitor. It seemed to me she could have said, “good morning, my name is _____. What’s yours?” Anyhoo, she was busy wiping down the pews and probably preoccupied with her duties. But as pastor, I always knew who the visitors were and I always greeted them before the start of worship, if time. Okay, I’m done complaining.

At the beginning of the service, she had the choir stand along with her and bowed to the congregation, saying, “Peace be with you.” We also stood and did the same thing back. This was the passing of the peace in these times of social distancing. The rest of the service flowed nicely, with several liturgical elements: the call to worship, prayer of confession, Gloria Patri, Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer and Doxology. I’m always pleased to see a balance of ancient rites along with the other parts of worship: prayers, scripture, sermon, offering, etc.

The pastor gave a solid sermon using the scripture about Jesus and the woman at the well. She used it to speak to the current situation where some might horde resources. She explained that Jacob’s well was shared by the Jews and the Samaritans, who were avowed enemies. Jesus did not even have a bucket to draw water, so he obviously expected the woman to share hers. She was astonished by his request, and that’s how they ended up having the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and anyone in the Bible (okay, this is my added footnote, but it’s worth sharing.) She also mentioned that the woman, married five times, would have been a little gun-shy to marry again.

Oh dear. I wish she hadn’t said that. The likelihood is that the Samaritan woman had either been “let go” by five husbands or she had been widowed each time. Women just didn’t walk away from marriage in those days. Men did. She was not a Joan Collins or an Elizabeth Taylor. Whatever happened–she had become an outcast–hence going to the well in the middle of the day. The normal custom was for women to gather water early in the morning, when it was less hot. The man she currently lived with was likely a survival situation. She had been reduced to being a concubine. She was probably un-marriageable at this point and only one step away from becoming a prostitute. This is why Jesus went to the well, alone, without a bucket. He knew exactly who he would meet there. And he had a plan to meet her alone, so he could give her living water.

Okay, I’m really preaching today. Anyway, the pastor used the scripture to speak about sharing resources and crossing boundaries, which we must continually do in order to follow the example of Jesus. It was an effective and timely sermon about not allowing fear to rule our hearts and minds.

After the benediction and the choral response, the Handbell choir took up their positions and gave a long postlude. Normally, this is when people get up and begin leaving, which is what some did. It felt disrespectful to leave while they were playing. So, most of us stayed seated and listened. But it would have been far better to put this musical offering before the benediction. It just felt out of place and awkward to the flow of the service.

I liked this church, liturgically and aesthetically, and would probably find a good fit theologically. However, other than the pastor’s apology for the bleach smell, no one spoke to me. This church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.

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