By Rev. Mike Lawson
A few weeks ago, I attended a three-day ministerial conference in Yakima that we call the “Orders Gathering.” During this time, Pastors, Deacons, and Elders of the Pacific Northwest Conference gather with District Superintendents and our Bishop to spend time together. We share news, stories, learning experiences, and participate in small discussion group sessions where we might speak from our hearts on a variety of subjects. It’s also a time to renew old friendships under a less demanding schedule than our yearly annual conference or in our ministry settings.
When we finished up the first night, and I walked out to my pickup in the parking lot, a teenager flew by on his bicycle wearing one of those scary Halloween clown masks, then circled back, hoping to creep me out, I think. I waved to him, smiling, and left. Kids, right?
The next day, during a break from our meetings, I stepped outside to get some fresh air and sat on a park bench in the sun. About that time, a boy came riding by on his bike, and on a whim, I shouted out to him, “Hey, I bet you own a clown mask, don’t you?” He immediately slowed, turned, and rode over to me. “Maybe,” he said. Why?”
“I think you know.” He smiled and said, “Yeah, I remember you.” He asked my name and told me his, John, and that he was 14 years old. I told him that I hoped he wasn’t scaring any little kids with his mask, and he said only his brothers and sisters. “You shouldn’t do that, if you’re mean to them, they’ll remember it when you’re grownups… Why are you riding around instead of attending school?” I wondered. He said he only went a half day and that he liked hanging around the church a lot because they give him a few bucks for bringing them cardboard to recycle.” I knew they didn’t usually do that but didn’t say anything to him about it. Then he asked me an interesting question:
“This is public property, isn’t it (meaning the church grounds)?” I said no, not exactly, but that everyone was welcome to come.” John then asked, “Well, who owns it then? Do You? Somebody has to own it.” For about the next fifteen minutes, we talked about what churches are for, why people come there, and how he might find something really great if he tried out Sunday School on Sunday morning. I also told him if he’d wait, I’d find out what time services were and that I was sure he’d be welcome. He said okay, so I went in, got the information, and when I returned, he was still there. Amazing.
I handed John some treats from the hospitality table, some string cheese, and cookies. He munched on them and we talked more, and he said maybe he’d come on Sunday morning. I said I hoped so, and that I wished I could be there but lived in Lewiston. I saw John several times after that during my stay, not only at church but riding around town in various places, and every time he saw me, he had this quizzical look on his face, and he waved. The last day when it was time to leave, John was there at the church again. “I gotta go, John, it was nice meeting you. Hope you try out Sunday school.”
“Thanks, Mike, maybe I will.” As I drove away, I said a prayer for John and shook my head, thinking how I wished making new friends and talking about church could always be so serendipitous and easy.
Now that Halloween is past and all the creepy clown masks are put away, I wonder what possibilities Thanksgiving might hold for people who are curious about our church, how and why it is here, and whether they would be welcome? Unless we happen to find ways to meet and invite acquaintances like John from our neighborhood, we might never know. And I have a feeling we would be missing out.
I’m always hopeful and prayerful that God will help us find ways to make that happen, and be a blessing to other lives. God is good — and grace is even better (I don’t know if that’s even possible).
Rev. Mike Lawson serves as pastor to the people of Orchards United Methodist Church in Lewiston, Idaho.