We've had lots of painters and tilers and builders in the church over the last few months. We are working on a kitchen renovation that has been a long time coming. Yesterday, the painters showed up, and as I had not met this particular crew, I walked to the fellowship hall to introduce myself.
"You're not the pastor, are you?"
"Yes, I am."
"I met your husband earlier. Never seen a woman preacher before."
"Now, you have! And, you should come hear one on Sunday morning."
At this point, I'm not much offended to still be a novelty in some circles. I long ago gave up the need to defend my right to be here...mainly because it is not a right, but it is a call. I digress.
Later in the day, the painter came around the outside of the church building to seek me out in my office. His church was in serious decline, he said. Only 14 members, he said. We need some young people, he said. Then he asked, "How have you gotten people here?"
That question is like pushing a start button for me! I am passionate about this topic. I do not believe the church's purpose is as much to "get people here" as it is to take church to the people, to serve in its community, and to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God...and all that jazz. So, we talked for a while about the nature of church. About the angst that comes in watching a church dwindle down. About our unique hope that God is always doing a new thing and bringing life out of death.
My friend suggested that this encounter was like Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night...this painter sneaking around the building to talk to this "woman preacher" because he could not do it under the scrutiny of his co-painters. Yet, he recognized that our church is very much alive. And, he wants that for his church.
I think I made a new friend. I hope he recognized that we "women preachers" are normal people trying to do our work as faithfully as we can. I know that I recognized that painters think deeply about things as they put color on walls. As different as we are, we love our churches. We love God. Yesterday, that was enough.