What is this?
For the first time in over eight years, I don’t have a church home. I don’t know what you do when you’re ‘homeless’ but I begin dreaming of possibilities. I’ve been wanting to throw something like this together for a while. Obviously, there’s a lot that I could add. But this is a decent start. This is my ‘ideal’ Sunday morning service – a service filled with scripture and prayer and hymns and preaching.
And one day I hope to make it a reality. Now, on to the story…
One Sunday Morning…
“What am I even doing here?” I mutter to myself as I glance at the blinking clock on the dashbord. Ten til ten. I shake my head and take another look at the building in front of me.
Though it looks like a church – stained-glass windows, cross-topped steeple, and all – the sign out front simply says, ‘The Meeting House’. I shake my head and consider driving away but something tells me I should give it a try.
I’ve heard people talk about it. Friends who say it isn’t like other chuches. And though I’ve been tempted to visit several times in the past, something always came up. At least it seemed that way.
But now here I am. Sitting in the parking lot. The building directly in front of me.
And my mind races.
“Don’t you have stuff you need to do? It’s Sunday morning and there’s so much you could get done around the house. Who needs church anyway? I haven’t been since I was a kid – do I really need to go back now?”
But something in the back of my mind whispers, “Give it a try.”
So I do it. I get out and make my way across the parking lot.
Two smiling greeters flank the main entrance – an older man and a woman in her twenties. Both of them wear a blue polo with the same white ‘The Meeting House’ logo that appears on the sign out front. The man shakes my hand as he says, “Welcome to the Meeting House. Have you been here before?”
“No, I haven’t,” I quietly respond. He opens the door and and joins me as I make my way into the foyer.
“If you want to grab a cup of coffee before the service starts, you can head over there,” he points to an area where people are milling about and talking to one another. I see another person with the same blue ‘The Meeting House’ polo standing next to a table that houses a stack of cups and two coffee pots. My new friend continues, “Though the service is just about to start so you may want to go ahead and make your way to the sanctuary.” As he speaks he motions toward a large doorway that leads into a much larger room. Two blue-shirted greeters stand at either side of the entryway.
I thank him as I make my way toward the sanctuary. Music drifts into the foyer. It seems as though the service is about to start.
The people chatting by the coffee pots slowly break up and make their way as well. I hear someone’s voice coming from inside the room where we’re all headed.
“Good morning, everyone. I’d like to welcome all of you to The Meeting House. For those who may be wondering, we don’t put ‘church’ on the sign out front because we are the Church. This building is just a simple meeting house for the true Church – God’s people…”
As he continues speaking, I notice two large signs displayed prominently on the walls adjacent to the main entryway.
On one is written, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42“. The other one says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ – Matthew 28:18-20“.
I get distracted reading and nearly run into one of the blue-shirted ushers. He smiles at me, extends his hand to shake mine, and quietly says, “Welcome.” He hands me a tall piece of paper and points me toward a seating area that’s vacant.
Before I head in that direction, he motions to his shirt and whispers,”If you need anything, just let one of us know and we’ll do what we can to help.”
I make my way to the empty seats and sit down, finding one that’s on the edge. I’m still unsure about this whole thing and don’t want to get boxed in. I’m keeping my exits open.
I look down at the piece of paper in my hands and begin reading as the man on stage continues with his welcome. At the top of the paper is the same logo as outside. Underneath it I read:
“To the Church of God, grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus.”
Beneath the greeting, there are a variety of announcements about upcomings services and events followed by a chart that lists recent giving. In small print below the amounts I read these words: “If you would like to support ‘The Meeting House’, you can deposit donations in the two offering boxes on the back wall”. I glance back and notice them. Nice but subdued.
I look back down at the paper in my hands and flip it over. There’s a list of prayer requests at the top and a large empty space in the middle labeled ‘Sermon Notes’. A perforated section sits at the bottom of the page that simply says, ‘Connect With Us’ and has a space for ‘name’, ‘e-mail’, and ‘phone number.’
I set the paper on the seat next to me and look toward the stage again.
“Would you join me in standing as we begin worshiping King Jesus this morning with a reading from the Psalms?” the man in front asks as the crowd rises and text appears on the projectors that hang on either side of a prominent, center-stage cross.
The pianist and two guitarists play as the congregation reads from the screens in unison:
“In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.“
As the congregation finishes reading, the song leader steps forward and leads us in singing ‘Rock of Ages’. The words appear on the front screens – and at the top, next to the title, there’s a number that signifies where to find it in the hymnals. I notice a few people who reach for hymnals and quickly flip to the right page. Others simply sing the words as they appear on the screens up front.
After the hymn, an older man makes his way to the center of the stage, bows his head, and begins to pray. He prays for a few moments extemporaneously and then closes with the Lord’s Prayer. Though I’ve never heard the Lord’s Prayer prayed the way he does. After each line he pauses – as if giving himself and the congregation a moment to reflect on what they’re praying. The entire congregation ends with a hearty, “Amen”.
The song leader again steps forward and leads the congregation in a song I’m unfamiliar with. The title is ‘There is Joy in the Service of the Master’. I quickly pick up the tune and by the end, I’m singing along with everyone else. As the song comes to an end, a young girl walks to the center stage, takes a microphone and reads a text that appears on the screens behind her.
“But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.“
The song leader bows his head and – spontaneously, it seems to me – prays that God’s Spirit would empower us to forgive and love as Stephen did. Everyone says “Amen” as he finishes and turns around to face the choir.
The choir sings two songs. One of them I’m unfamiliar with. The other one I know well, ‘It Is Well’. They played that song at my grandmother’s funeral. I nearly weep as they sing, thinking about her.
When the choir finishes singing, someone stands up from in the midst of the congregation with a microphone in hand and reads another text:
“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him’.
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.‘”
When the reader finishes, he sits down and a middle-aged man steps up to the center of the stage with a Bible in hand. I can immediately tell that he’s the preacher.
“If this is your first Sunday with us, I’d like to personally welcome you. We’re in the middle of a series on what the resurrection of Jesus Christ means for the world – and each one of us. Today, we’ll be reflecting on the passage from John’s gospel that we’ve just heard…”
He goes on to preach for thirty or so minutes and just as I can feel him coming in for a landing, he draws everyone’s attention to a table that sits in the front of the sanctuary. On the table is a loaf of bread and a silver cup.
He continues speaking as he prepares the table.
“Before Jesus went to his death, he gave his disciples a meal. Some people call it the Lord’s Supper. Others call it communion. Still others call it the eucharist – a word that means thanksgiving. The name isn’t what’s important. It’s the meal – and the faith – and the prayers behind it – that matter. Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, that the bread was his body broken for them.” The preacher breaks the bread in half and lays it on the table. “Likewise, he told them that the cup was his blood, poured out for them”. He raises the cup so everyone can see it.
“We’ve heard God’s Word this morning. We’ve listened to his promises. He’s told us that he’s gone to prepare a place for us and that in the meantime, he desires to empower us to live the way he did – in holiness and love. I want to invite each of you – if you’ve given your allegiance to King Jesus and the Kingdom of God – to come. Take the meal that Jesus has given. And as you eat and drink, reflect on what Christ has done, and what he’s calling you to do. And once you’ve heard his call – do it.” He pauses and then continues, as if suddenly remembering something, “And don’t forget – as always, if you ever need to pray with someone, you can come forward and talk with one of the prayer counselors on either side of the stage. That’s what they’re here for.”
I notice a man and woman stand on either side of the stage – all four wearing the same blue shirts from before. They stand silently, waiting for anyone who might come forward with a need.
The preacher bows his head and prays a short prayer – a plea for God to work out his Word in the life of the congregation. Then he asks for God to bless those who eat the bread and drink of the cup.
When he finished praying, the song leader returns to the stage and begins singing ‘Be Still My Soul’. The congregation sings as a line forms to take communion. I watch as people tear off small pieces of bread, dip it into the cup, and return to their seats to eat, reflect, pray, and sing.
Once everyone has had an opportunity to go forward, the preacher moves to the center aisle and reads one final text.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,’ and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
After he finishes reading, the preacher addresses the congregation. “You are a chosen race. A royal priesthood. A holy nation. That is your calling in the world today. And thanks be to God, Jesus’ resurrection has made that calling not only clear but possible. Now, let’s leave this place like the people of God we are.”
As he makes his way out of the sanctuary, another man – a younger one – stands at the front of the sanctuary and tells the congregation that he has a couple of announcements.
“Tonight at 6:30, as usual, we have an opportunity for you to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus. We will be continuing a verse-by-verse study on the book of Jude. And make sure to bring the kids because they’ll have an opportunity to study the same passage in an environment geared for them.
Also, make sure to come back on Wednesday at 6:30 for an opportunity to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus. Everyone will have an opportunity to share how God is at work in their lives, and then we’ll have a time of prayer for God’s continued movement in our lives, our congregation, and our community. We also encourage anyone who is able and willing to fast on Wednesday in preparation for our prayer service.
Finally, don’t forget that our doors are open every morning from 7:30 until 9:00AM for a special time of prayer and reflection. We welcome everyone. Now, pray with me as we close.”
He prays but doesn’t end his prayer with an “Amen”. Instead, he ends with these words, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Go in the spirit and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
And the service is over. I stand up and make my way to the exit. People stop me here and there, introducing themselves and telling me how thankful they are that I visited.
As I walk toward my car, I can’t help but feel the same way.