I spent a season leading worship at a campground just off the Appalachian Trail, where Sunday worship was held in a steel fab shed whose massive sliding doors I heaved open as I set up 15 folding chairs and moved a podium with a faded cardboard Easter lily thumbtacked to it. On hot days, an oscillating stand fan did its best. In cool weather, I could start the wood stove. There were the “regulars” whose campers were full every weekend in the season, and those just passing through. The campground owners wanted to offer worship since they could not get away to go to their Lutheran Church, cheerily proclaiming, “And after all, wherever two or three are gathered in my name, it is church!”
No one sat in the front row of chairs, one indication that wherever we gather our church practices are universal. But over the course of a six- month season, with regulars and others, we saw we all belonged together in Jesus. Someone asked if I would stop by a camper where a couple was having a problem because they sure could use prayer. A precocious 9 year-old asked if he could help as his grandparents beamed that maybe someday he could be a preacher, and somehow this female seminary student was his mentor. Once church stopped because the pouring down rain on a metal roof drowned all sound out and we sat marveling at the God of creation, while giving thanks for the sturdy roof with no leaks before continuing. The strength of our gathered prayers grew as we became open to mutual consolation and celebration for good test results and more. One Sunday the electronic BINGO sign on the wall spontaneously lit up behind me while I was preaching, and it caught our breath and tickled our fancy at what God was up to. Once, a large Mennonite family cautiously entered worship and we had to stop and set up 20 chairs, start over and give thanks they drew near with us. That week we had 40!
I, like all of us, want to imagine “church” and being “together” in the ways of my choosing. Jesus often surprises me, reminding that most of all, the most important thing is his presence and God will fill us wherever we gather.
Gather us Lord Jesus as your own. Amen.
Rev. Carolyn Hetrick
The people of Grace share their favorite bible stories for the 2023 Lenten Devotional: I Love to Tell the Story. Each day's devotional will be automatically posted so come back daily after 7 am for a new reflection.