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.
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.”
“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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