When I went to church this morning I noticed a young man I hadn't seen before standing alone just outside the front door. As I looked at him he caught my eye and we smiled and said hello. I went on in to the sanctuary, decked in scarlet banners for Pentecost, and forgot about him.
After the prayers of the church, the music director announced that she had received a letter from a man whom she'd never met before. He had moved to L.A. from Kansas and had no church here. But his mother had died in a car accident on Friday, and he couldn't afford to go back to Kansas for the funeral. So he wanted to sing "Amazing Grace" in a church in her honor. She had agreed, and so up came the same young man whom I'd seen outside.
"Amazing Grace" is actually in the Lutheran hymnal, so after he sang the first verse himself we all joined him for two more verses. He had a beautiful voice; I don't know if he's a professional singer, but he could be. He was on the verge of tears and so was much of the congregation, including myself. After the song came the passing of the peace, and many of us went over to greet him and comfort him. Some gave him hugs, although I thought that would have been a little too forward coming from me.
After the service I went up to the music director to discuss another matter, but she ran after the young man to catch him before she left. When she came back she said she'd persuaded him to come back for the Wednesday service and talked about her plans to get him into the music program.
"Poor guy," I said. "He comes over to mourn his mother, and people are already trying to drag him into things!"
I was thinking of how I would feel in that situation, but of course if I were in mourning I wouldn't ask to sing in front of a strange church either. The whole thing reminded me of how important the church's role in welcoming the stranger is in today's world, because there are so many strangers. The way I looked at the man, I realized later, is much the way people at church looked at me seven months ago: notice a new person, make yourself part of the welcoming committee, share whatever burdens they bring with them. I hope that it helped him, whether he remains with us or not.Posted by Camassia at May 30, 2004 06:01 PM | TrackBack