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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Worship (corporate) (10/04/07)

TITLE: Sanctuary
By Karen Wilber
10/08/07


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Beth Danson inserted the deacons' key into the lock and paused, staring at the door handle. She rested her forehead against the wooden doorframe, inhaled, and breathed out a confession, “What have we done?” She steadied herself with her free hand and turned the lock. The church's door opened into silence, not the breath-catching quiet of expectation, but the dark stillness of loss.

The glow of early morning sun through the windows lit her way as she crossed the foyer. Her fingers flipped the switches and fluorescent lights sputtered to life. She entered the sanctuary proper through a second door and made her way to a control panel. Sliding each switch up its track, she illuminated the sanctuary: first the pews, then the choir, and finally the empty pulpit.

She walked down the center aisle glancing from side to side to assure that the hymnals were straightened and no bulletins lingered from the previous Sunday. She stopped before the chancel steps and gazed up at the sunlit, stained glass face of Jesus. Reaching out a hand, she gripped the side of a pew. “Forgive us, Lord.”

The congregation was in a shambles. What began as a discussion over policy in a committee meeting had escalated until voices were raised in anger. Cracks formed in their fellowship. Unchecked tongues drove wedges between people. By last Sunday the church had cleaved itself in two.

Us.

Them.

Now, as Beth prepared the sanctuary for worship, she wondered who would show up today. Harsh words uttered at last Sunday's congregational meeting still hung heavy in the air. But Beth couldn't stay away. She needed to be here in God's house. She felt a hand gently squeeze her shoulder and turned toward the familiar warmth of her husband's touch. She blinked back tears. “There's no one else here.”

“We're here.”

“Yes,” she smiled weakly, “For where two or three have gathered . . . ”

He wiped a loose tear from her cheek then clasped her hand in his. They turned together to the sound of hurried footsteps. A slender man, his suit wrinkled at the knees, rushed down the aisle pulling a sheaf of papers from his jacket. The chancel lights revealed the young pastor's poorly-shaved chin and dark-circled eyes. “I'm glad to see you both. I thought I might be the only one here this morning.”

A tentative group peered into the sanctuary. Members of the choir entered with their robes draped over their arms. “We thought we'd just sing hymns today. We weren't sure who else would be here.”

Quietly, the congregation gathered, each member taking up residence in familiar territory. A few heads bowed in silent prayer. Someone laid a red rose on the communion table. As the organist began the prelude, Beth looked around. Still so many empty places. How will our congregation hold together? She looked across the aisle and saw Gary O'Dell, firmly planted in the seat which Charles Scott had occupied through three pastorates. Gary set his jaw as he looked up at Charles. “Brother, I'm not leaving this pew until you forgive me.”

Charles considered silently for a moment, then thrust out his hand. “Brother, if you'll join me for worship – I'll let you sit in my pew.”

The men's rich laughter set off a chain reaction. Beth's spirit soared. Laughter. How long has it been since we've heard laughter in these walls.

Beneath the brilliant, heaven-lit stained glass windows the choir rose and the congregation joined them for the opening hymn. Forgetting themselves, the congregants crossed down and over the aisles, gathering together. To worship.

*******
Scripture: Matthew 18:20 (NASB)


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This article has been read 1091 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lisa Holloway10/11/07
This is a well-told and realistic depiction of what in-fighting can do to the church body. I thought the part with Gary's pew was a nice touch at the end.
Debbie Wistrom10/11/07
It's good to be reminded that someone must make the first move, and what a way he did, by asking for forgiveness, I loved it.
Lynda Schultz 10/12/07
Wonderful story of reconciliation begun and a reminder that without it, worship can't happen. Good work.
Laury Hubrich 10/13/07
This was a good story. I've been through problems in churches and could relate to this pain.
Laury
Benjamin Graber10/17/07
This was a moving story. Too often stories like this in life don't have happy endings, but by God's grace they can...
George Parler 10/17/07
It should not be so in the gathering of God's people, but sadly it is too frequent. This is what happens when we forget why we gather. But thank God for the seeds that remain in the plowed and disturbed ground. Good job.
Kristi Sands10/17/07
This piece was very well-written. It spoke of healing, and isn't that what worship brings to us?!!
Dee Yoder 10/17/07
When people disagree, it's good to know they can come together again, if they can still reach out and forgive. Congregations are made up of individuals who need the Lord just like anyone else. We can tsk over it because it's a church body, but the truth is we'll never be far from our old sinful nature until we reach Heaven.
Janice Cartwright10/17/07
Having twice served as church secretary I could empathize with Beth. The two churches were different as night and day. In the first the members got along beautifully for the most part. The second was a different story, though not as drastic as the one you described. I think perhaps it was prayer and leadership that made the difference.
Marty Wellington 10/18/07
Beautifully, thoughtfully written. Congratulations on your win!
Linda Roth10/18/07
Karen, I liked the way you allowed the emotion to build in this piece and the small details you offered to bring it to life. Good writing!
Sheri Gordon10/18/07
Congratulations on your EC. This is very inspiring, and very well written.
joe hodson10/18/07
Congratulations on your win. Great writing. I could really picture everything that was going on.
Sharlyn Guthrie10/18/07
It's sad when churches split, but this story had a positive ending. Great job, and congratulations!