When you enter the doors of a new church, anything could happen. Churches with dwindling numbers are often surprised to see a new face, as the greeters were this morning to see me. But their warmth made me feel right at home.
A single ring of chairs stood empty around the center microphone on the circular platform, expectant. A Steinway occupied the far end of the circle, its melodies soaring to fill the sanctuary and encircling all of us.
Pews faced the middle. I sat in the second row, waiting, observing. I was early. In time, others came and found seats in the first few rows. I knew no one. I had been invited by the son-in-law of a member to speak during the Sunday school hour. That was my only earthly connection.
A pamphlet in the pew back explained how a Quaker-style service works. Quakers embrace silence as they embrace each other, welcoming the opportunity to listen and learn from the spirit of Christ in their midst. The unprogrammed quiet is a soothing balm in a hurried life.
A man rolled in on a motorized wheelchair, making his way to the front to greet another worshipper, and then me. Jerry refused to let his disability cripple his contribution to the warmth of the community. (I learned later that he was relatively new himself, and that the man he greeted was there for only the second time. Signs of life.)
As the service unfolded, I gathered that this was a grieving community, searching for direction, wondering how to respond faithfully to a series of events that left most of their pews empty. I wondered, then, if I should scrap my seminar on 'Understanding Biblical Prophecy' and speak instead about lament, or about how to be rooted in the face of life's storms (Psalm 1–2). How does one walk into a community and speak without first listening long? first loving and hearing?
In those quiet moments, I asked the Lord to guide me. By the time I reached the classroom after the service, I knew I should stick with my original topic and trust that God had guided my preparation. I suspected (rightly, I'm told) that Quakers typically camp out in the Gospels. That was my bridge to the prophets. How can one possibly understand the richness of the Gospels without an understanding of the Old Testament prophets? Spontaneously, I began in John 9, linking Jesus' miracle to Isaiah's commission in chapter 6. Then we moved into Isaiah 7 to examine verse 14, always a Christmas favorite. Both passages illustrate the value of reading the text closely for its historical, literary, and theological dimensions. They also illustrate the inherent dangers when we don't.
The hour flew by, followed by several follow-up conversations and a long lunch. I returned home with a full heart, grateful for the privilege of fellowship with other Christ-followers and grateful that I have the most wonderful subject matter in the world to teach -- God's Word -- which truly does not return void.
Encounters like this one are not accidental. God uses each personal connection in some way as we spur one another on to love and good deeds. A Quaker might say that the light of Christ within each of us illuminates the community as we gather. I'd say that pretty well sums up what happened today!