yesterday's easter service I spent at my friend pete's little church a mere 5 miles further out on the rim. this used to be my wife's congregation when she still skewed lutheran and we return every once in a while just to see the people there.
pete is a good man, a little older than me, born and bred in tanzania, more liberal in his thinking than he'd like people to know, and whose greatest years he says were spent as a truck driver. it's partly through my conversations with him that I decided to attend seminary.
the little church in gilman, part of a 3-point parish with spring valley and clear lake, was filled up for the service--I counted at least 200 people, not counting kids. many were in their easter finery, and if I'd had a nickel for every little girl in a bonnet I'd have made--well, maybe 50 cents. but there seemed like a lot of them.
we sat behind a couple families that included these, who seemed so busy between looking at one another through the crowns of their hats and dropping, purposely or not, their change they were to put in the offering plate that it seemed like the service was one big very dull commercial and they weren't able to get up or change the channel. it wasn't as bad a sermon as they thought--pete is not a charismatic speaker or pastor but his heart's in the right place (leftward and "religion is about people"-ward). this one was hard to get hold of: he started by praising the local college's winning the national rube goldberg competition and moved from the improbable but effective goldberg contraptions to the impossible but symbolic xtian resurrection to the messy but workable system of organs in our individual bodies. there were a lot of jumps between segments of the sermon's message, but we were in a xtian church and knew where we were headed, and pete is awarded points for being self-aware enough to describe his own sermon as a rube goldberg affair.
it's an old, comfortable church composed of comfortable people. it has a pretty large young adult following, mostly families but a few singles, and is layered with multiple generations. we were witness to the deterioration of one retired farmer who was considerably more befuddled than he'd been when we last saw him, and the tears of one of his daughters when he started down the wrong aisle after taking communion and needing to be steered not-too-gently by his wife at his elbow. but we were also witness to the little girl I'd filled water balloons with at a church block party almost a decade ago, and which I'd forgotten all about, but she said was one of her fondest memories. this same little girl is about to graduate high school and start college in the fall.
this is the meaning of the phrase "church is the people not the liturgy." pete's sermon seemed at times made up on the fly and some changes were evident mid-service. the choir was brought up early and the kid lofting the paschal candle had to be reminded where she should stand and what she should do. but the organist had to expand her communion repertoire from 3 to 6 hymns when it became evident there were so many more people intent on kneeling at the rail than they'd expected and it took 5 minutes to exit the tiny church because so many people were shaking pete's hand. it is a good thing to see and a better thing to experience.