As we gathered for our weekly chapel service, I was astounded as more and more people came in. We had to go to the day room in order to get more chairs so that the number of people who were gathered to seek shelter and warmth from the cold rain would have somewhere to sit. We’ve already been moved from the library to the small conference room to the large conference room because we couldn’t fit in the smaller two rooms, and I’m not sure where we would go next as we are currently meeting in the biggest room available. What an awesome puzzle to have to figure out!
As we were huddled together listening to our pianist play the prelude, one of our regular attendees came through the door.
“Hey! I saw you working, didn’t I?” I asked with a smile on my face.
“Yes! You did! I got a job! And now I am in line for an apartment,” he said proudly.
“Well, look at you! And how often do you get paid?” I asked.
“Every day I work!” he said.
“I got a job too and am in line for an apartment,” another one of our regular attendees piped up.
“You did?” I said with excitement. “Alright, now, y’all are going to make me start crying here before we even get started.”
And my eyes did fill up with tears because I had watched these two over the past eight months. I saw them come in, heads down, faces set, hopeless. I saw them fighting with their own sense of self-worth, and yet still finding the strength to express gratitude that they had a roof over their head and food to eat, still voicing prayers of concern for those who were living on the streets.
Today I saw their transformation. Hope and light exuded from them. We celebrated and clapped and praised during our prayers of the people and I saw the eyes of others who were worshipping with us for the first time look up. There was a question in their faces as if they were asking Is it really possible to create a new life?
This is the power of community, gathered together drawing witness to the hurt and pain and joy and hope that we experience along life’s journey. This is the power of testimony shared aloud during prayers of the people.
When I became a minister, I thought it was my responsibility to plan each aspect of worship, carefully considering the theological experience the people gathered would have. Now, I think as a minister, maybe it’s really more about creating a space and place where the people of God feel free to worship sharing heartbreaks and despair right along with sharing the way they have witnessed God working in the world.
Because goodness knows that if you’ve been working and working to find a job and then someone greets you with, “I saw you working!” you both end up witnessing a prayed answer in the midst of hopelessness and despair. You both end up up witnessing God whispering in the most unexpected places, “I am with you. You are not alone.”