Belonging to a church

Pastoral Messages | December 7, 2017

While in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a few years ago, my wife and I stepped into a small church for Sunday worship. With thirty or so other people there also to praise the Lord, we sat together beneath the hum of ceiling fans, sneaking occasional peeks at the Teton mountains. The woman at the upright piano played the notes fine, though her tempos didn’t exactly communicate a feel for the music. She has played in churches, we learned later, for over 60 years.

The assisting minister didn’t fit his robe, or the robe didn’t fit him – I’m not sure which. The pastor preached a fine sermon on mercy. When an experience mutually satisfies, my wife and I tend to lean into each other, or discreetly elbow affirmation. This sermon did that. I remember being struck by the sharing of the Lord’s peace that lasted a good five minutes. These people loved each other.

I noticed that the burgundy carpet matched the color of the communion wine, perhaps intentionally so to disguise the occasional spill. It’s funny what things one contemplates in an unfamiliar space.

Announcements happened at the end of the service when anybody may share a prayer concern or raise a matter for the community. One of the “Circle of Care” women stood up to request a volunteer for driving an elderly man of the congregation over and back to Idaho Falls twice a week. Ernie gets treatments for cancer in his eye at the hospital there. She indicated that she needed some temporary relief. With autumn snows coming on, and the treacherous traverse of Teton Pass looming as part of the 180-mile round trip, one could tell she was nervous yet hopeful for assistance.

When nobody in the congregation raised their hand, she did what we all might do – she added some more words of encouragement and invitation. There was awkward silence. She spoke further. Still no hands. That’s when she concluded with a graceful smile, “Well, if any of you feel the impulse, or you want to speak with me personally about what’s involved, I’m glad to be available.”

I noticed a number of people surrounding this woman after church. It looked like the friendliest bunch. I don’t know if they were commiserating with her or actually inquiring about how they might help meet her request. Two things struck me as we walked to our car. First, I wish we had the luxury of being more than one-Sunday guests in this community. We met Ernie who seemed like the neatest guy; I would have liked to be his personal driver. Second, something told me that this church would figure out how to get Ernie over Teton Pass twice a week.

One way or another, I had a strong hunch they would figure it out. That’s what a congregation does that’s warm, hospitable, and committed to inconveniencing itself for the sake of loving others.

Peter W. Marty, senior pastor

4 Comments on “Belonging to a church”

  • Jules Irish

    December 8, 2017 at 8:49 am

    I, too, have experienced the camaraderie and love envelops me when I visit small community churches on our annual Western adventures. It is always one of the highlights of my trips.

  • Bill wittkamp

    December 7, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    Always look forward to and appreciate these little messages from Pastor Peter.

  • Marcia Jensen

    December 7, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Spoken like a working pastor aware of the details???? Thank you for the little things that matter so much.

  • Marv Taylor

    December 7, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Pastor Peter,
    I trust that this year has provided many opportunities for growth. I enjoy and am stimulated by many of your writings as we receive the communications from St. Paul. I look forward to reading about your new members with their varied age, education, jobs, and reasons for calling St. Paul home.
    Jan and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. God bless. Marv

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