The youth group had a lock-in last night. After helping with the food and snack needs, and making sure the adult chaperones were compliant with all policies and procedures for keeping children and youth safe, I offered my blessing and went off to dinner with friends and then good sleep.
This morning, I came back early to help with clean up and ensure the worship-readiness of the church for Sunday.
Before starting to work, I noticed one of the youth sitting alone and looking up at me with pleading eyes. I knew she had just been through a rough time, so I sat with her a while, put my arms around her, told her how much I loved her and let her weep, enfolded and safe for a bit.
One by one, the parents showed up and retrieved the sleepy youth. I said goodby to the Youth Directors and the last of the chaperones and then sat down to survey the damage.
Economics dictated when we built that we could only have one large multi-purpose room in order to have enough classroom space for the child-care ministry. At different times during the week, that one room serves as worship center and children’s chapel, dining room, educational space, movie theater, playground for the children on rainy or other inclement weather days, community meeting space, reflection center, band and choir rehearsal room and occasional nap space for desperately tired teens and adults.
Nearly every room in the building is used 15 hours a day every day of the week.
Despite the best efforts of everyone who shares the space, daily attention from the child-care division and twice-weekly work of the custodial firm, the church gets very, very dirty.
As it should. With fifty to seventy children there daily, along with the multiple other ministries, food and drink spill with regularity. Little feet track in chalk from their beautiful chalk drawings at the main entrance, and dirt from the playyard at the back. Grape juice spills at the altar; the youth drip candle wax as they close their evening worship to meditative, candlelit prayer.
Overloaded trash bags, where too many unwisely place disposable cups still filled with liquid, are dragged along the carpeted hallways, leaving a trail of damp, dirty waste in their wake. Children vomit, diapers occasonally don’t hold, and toddlers do so love to turn their sippy cups upside down to see what might happen when they do.
Yes, it gets dirty.
Fortunately, the youth team had already done a great job resetting the worship center. Other adults had thoroughly cleaned the kitchen. I decided to ask the helper I recruited for set-up to instead use the carpet shampooer and take care of the latest track marks from overloaded trash bags.
I took my steamer and began to attack some of the spill spots on the worship center floor.
And so, down on my knees, I began to use this routine work to enter into the glories of rhythmic prayer. Gratitude spilled out of my mind and heart and into God’s hands.
About 20 minutes into my task, I looked up and saw several men I did not recognize in the greeting area. A bit startled, I immediately stopped my work, rose, approached them and asked if I could be of help. It turns out they were part of our Saturday morning AA group–I had totally forgotten about them and they had been meeting in the one room that is set aside for adult study.
As I turned back in, I heard a familiar voice ring out, “Hi Boss!” The AA facilitator, Bob, came around the corner and I got a bear hug from one of my favorite people. He mentioned that they need an additional meeting time per week, so I asked him to come to my office so I could get this on the church calendar.
From one group four years ago, AA now meets five times a week in our building. As we rejoiced together over the power of the ministry, another familier face peeped in the door. It was one of my lost church members. I had realized a year ago that we no longer had a current address for him, nor had he been in worship attendance for a while, and I was sadly comtemplating bringing his name to Charge Conference in preparation of removing his name from our church rolls.
But here he was–and with good news. A new marriage, the purchase of a home, a life clean and sober and full of hope after years of agonizing brokenness. He explained his long absence from church attendance, and again saw his way clear to attend with his new wife.
The three of us sat and talked for a while. An unlikely trio to be sure. My AA facilitator describes himself as a beat up old drunk (and I describe him as my angel in overalls), my long-lost long-haul truck driver member and me, the over-educated, over-tired, pastor/floor-scubber/toilet paper roll changer (I’m apparently the only person in the church who knows how to do this). There we sat, our faces beaming with joy, with connection, with kingdom holiness.
They left, and I returned to my task. Drop to my knees, steam, wipe, pray, steam, wipe, pray, head to the next spot, drop to my knees, steam, wipe, pray, steam, wipe, pray.
I am alone in the building, alone with my thoughts, alone in the presence of God.
We clergy often laugh–and weep–about the things we are NOT taught in seminary about pastoral leadership. It’s true. We don’t learn about room set up, or contrary toilet paper holders, or how to fix broken coffee-makers, not to mention broken relationships.
No one walks us through the intricacies of charge conference reports or the nightmare of coming up with accurate year-end statistics. They don’t mention what to do when the giving decreases and there is just not enough money to pay the clergy salary, often the only expendable item on a smaller church budget.
They don’t tell us that sometimes the most important thing we can do is get on our knees and clean the spots off the floor. We wouldn’t believe them if they did.
But sometimes it is true. It certainly was on this day.