I stood next to the communion table in the middle of the chancel area, holding an extra loaf of bread in my hand, ready to re-supply one of the serving stations when needed.
The man approached me from the congregation, passing by one of the serving stations as he did so. My first thought was that he had misunderstood the serving instructions and was coming forward to get a piece of bread from the loaf I was holding. So I stepped forward to meet him, indicating that he should return to the serving station.
However, he actually wanted to talk. To me. Full voice. Right there and right then. And so he did.
He was not pleased with the day’s sermon content, and one of the illustrations in particular. And he wanted to let me know that he was not pleased and to ask me if he could address the entire church to express this sentiment.
My first response was to ask him if we could discuss the matter at a more appropriate time. I told him I would be happy to talk with him after worship, if he wanted to. This was insufficient.
And so I then shifted to answering his concerns, assuring him that I heard him, I understood his opinion, and that the illustration in question was used to give an example of the larger message of the sermon. (The message, by the way, was that Jesus asks his followers to love one another as he loves us.) I asked him about the other illustration that had been used, and if that one also bothered him. He said, “No that one was fine.”
It was at this point that I realized that the man was suffering. He was experiencing some kind of crisis, and was not fully engaged with reality. I do not know exactly what the nature of his particular pain was, but it was evident that it was governing his words and actions.
And so I again shifted gears, gently suggesting that we could talk about his concerns at another time.
Through it all, communion was being served. The three serving stations were going, people were receiving the sacrament, the steady sound of “the Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ” was the background of my conversation, people were kneeling in prayer all around us. #ThisIsChurch
My approach wasn’t working, and I was beginning to weigh other options, when Debi came up toward the table.
Debi had just received communion and spent time in prayer, and now she was walking up onto the chancel area and approaching the man and me. We made eye contact. In that unspoken moment, she said, “Do you want me to see if I can encourage him to come with me?” And I said, “Yes please, and thank you. And God bless you.”
Debi then spoke gently and graciously, but firmly to the man, saying, “Let’s go out into the hall and you and I can talk about this. I want to hear what you have to say.”
At about the same time, Matt stepped up into the chancel area as well. Matt echoed Debi’s words, and reached out to the man to walk out with him. At first the man acted as if he was going to resist, but decided to go with them. He stumbled a bit going down the steps, but walked out calmly between Debi and Matt.
Several church folks met him at the door of the sanctuary, and stepped out into the hallway with him. It was all very quiet and calm. Communion continued to be served at all three serving stations for the entire duration of this event. I watched through the windows in the back of the room, and saw several people gathered around the man.
Just before we sang the final song, he came back into the sanctuary. He went to his seat, and stood for the final song.
And then I witnessed one of the most beautiful, grace-filled moments of worship I’ve ever seen.
Here at Campbell, we have the practice of joining hands for the closing prayer. The people in worship were invited to join hands, as usual. And they did.
And not only did the people right around the man reach out and join hands with him, people literally crossed the aisle to make sure he had people to connect with. They surrounded him with grace. When I saw it, I knew I was witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit. I knew I was seeing the sermon come to life in that room, as these amazing followers of Jesus chose to love this man, just as Jesus loves us. This. Is. Church.
I have heard through the grapevine that later in the day the man was still talking about what had upset him from the sermon at Campbell. Someone told me that as he left he took his nametag off, threw it down on the table, and declared that he was not going to be coming back. We are planning to do what follow-up we can with him, to make sure that he is in fact okay.
But here’s what I saw on Sunday. I saw a disruption of love. I saw the church of Jesus Christ being the church of Jesus Christ. I saw grace in action. I saw the sermon we had just heard become incarnate. I saw an authentic outpouring of love for one struggling person. I saw the core values of Campbell UMC come to life with grace, inclusivity, authenticity, and truly selfless service.
A guest on Sunday asked me after worship if she could see our safety policies and procedures for a Sunday morning disruption, “since you obviously have them!” Imagine her surprise when I replied, “Actually no, we do not have any written procedures for Sunday morning disruptions like that. What you saw this morning was authentic; it was just Campbell being Campbell.”
It is far more important to know who you are than to know what to do.
I’m not opposed to having written security policies mind you, but what happened last Sunday was not the result of any kind of policy. Debi and Matt and all the others did what they did because that’s who they are. They did not stop and say, “Now what is our policy for 'Sunday Morning Disruptions'?” They simply and selflessly responded with grace.
They made sure the man knew that he was being heard; they made sure he and others were safe; they made sure he knew that he had people around him; and ... they prayed with him.
And they did all of this not because they “knew what to do in a situation like this.”
They did it all because they know who they are. And it was beautiful to see.