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When I got off the phone, I immediately thought how disappointed the church council would be after all their hard work. Our new praise service was scheduled for the upcoming Sunday, but I had just learned that our guitarist had broken his wrist, and we didn’t have a backup.

Finding him had been hard enough—and was a stretch for our church. Local guitarists were either already playing for other churches or not available. I suspected that “not available” meant not interested, but that was before air quotes caught on around here and I wouldn’t have used them anyway. The last thing I wanted to do was to alienate potential newcomers by questioning their reasons for not attending sooner!

So I had gone to the local tavern and listened to the lead guitar player there. I had been cautioned against this by one young man, as he shook my hand after worship: “You don’t want to do that, Pastor.” He was married, had two little girls and a smiley wife, but I guessed he also had prior knowledge.

Still, by the next Friday, that same young man showed up at the tavern with a whole tableful of church friends. The guitarist was great and joined us afterward to talk. The following week, he agreed to play for our services! I don’t think he even knew why he accepted, except that the invitation was so unexpected. Meanwhile, the anticipation of his coming had given us the energy boost we needed.

But now his wrist was broken and we’d have to postpone the service.

My thoughts were interrupted when Bob came in. Bob was the local pharmacist. Nice guy. An old family friend, but not a church attender. He handed me a paper cup of coffee from the café down the street and sat down to tell me why he’d come.

“I see how hard you’ve been working to get people like me to come to church, and my conscience has been bothering me,” he began. “So I came in to tell you that no matter what you do or what you change around here, I’m probably not going to show up.” I tried to listen well, to use reassuring pastoral skills, but in the end he seemed to get more relief just from getting that off his chest.

How much can you deflate someone who’s already been deflated? I was flat out of ideas and exhausted.

But now his wrist was broken and we’d have to postpone the service.

However, that wasn’t the end. Like other dramas, those in the church often have sequels. And such a good author.

One Sunday morning, my worried husband stopped me just as the service was about to begin. He couldn’t find our youngest daughter. Others rushed to help us look and quickly found her standing outside in the parking lot. As parents do, we hugged her and, at the same time, asked, “What in the world were you thinking?”

“I was waiting for Mr. Bob,” she explained. “He told me he was coming to church.” I don’t know whether she misunderstood, or if Bob had once said that to her casually, but she took him at his word and went out to watch. I think it was my husband who broke the news to Bob later. The following week he and his family were in the third pew on the right side.

What does it mean to be part of the church? All of the above. A willingness to venture into new territory, for God’s people have always traveled that way. Gathering at table or desk. Offering, but not controlling. Inviting, but not lording over. Celebrating that we’re all in this together. Being honest and humble about our motives and our limitations. Catching the rhythmic breath of doing and waiting. And all the while, echoing and echoing and echoing Jesus.

Come, wounded guitarist, we will wait for you, for together we are blessed by God’s serendipity.

Come, guarded friend, for we too have recognized God’s disarming call. You are already loved.

Come, worn-out church leader. Don’t be disheartened.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Shirley Heeg

Shirley Heeg is a woman of faith who has served as a minister to United Church of Christ and Reformed Church in America congregations in both Michigan and Minnesota. Retired, she and her husband, John, live mid-knuckle on Michigan’s pinky finger, in the same woodland home where they once raised their four children and where they welcome them back with their families as often as possible. These days she is a guest preacher and writer, and hopes to be a good friend.