It is summertime in the church. The days are long but the to-do list is a bit shorter. The congregation is traveling, clinking glasses with family and building sand castles. Those who still do this report in to their pastors that they’ll be gone for a few weeks, headed up to Maine for a little R&R, going out to Arizona to see her cousin, going with his grandson to Scout Camp at Philmont. The preschool classrooms downstairs that rattle my chair with their drum beating and happy squeals during the school year are quiet once again. The session and deacons voted not to meet in July. And on Sundays, we’re back to one service, with lemonade and cookies in the narthex afterwards. The chaos of May and the final push of June have yielded to something like a great exhale of God’s people. People walk and smile bright like sun flowers, barely remembering that one month ago they were “crazy busy.”
Of course there is Vacation Bible Camp. Sermon writing continues. General Assembly conversations cranked up like the old HVAC system booming on, drowning out the cicadas for a moment, then quieting once more, to the rhythms of prayer and service and worship – and people being church together.
I start each summer day at the church watering the tender plants in our church garden, rooting them on to the aspirational stakes standing beside them. I put a similar stake next to the ministries we will cultivate for the fall, now that I have time to dream about what we might do together if there were just the right mix of people and nourishment.
During the summer, I make it a priority to read: Scripture yes, and also books that I have been meaning to read. This summer, it is a leisurely stroll through Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark” that reads like a night camping under the stars, earthy and deep and expansive. The book is reminding me that just like summer offers the church another pace and posture for ministry, darkness and nighttime offer an important spiritual gift that solar powered faith often frightens off.
During the summer, I make it a point to meet with people for coffee, for lunch, for a conversation on their front stoop. They and I seem to share more in this warm weather, as if our heart muscles are more limber and our souls can stretch farther in this climate.
But one day stands out above the others. Since the summer means empty school buses and a little more free time for the staff at our partner elementary school across the street, we spent an afternoon after church loading up all of our church officers into a big yellow school bus and driving through our community, particularly driving the boundary lines of Herndon Elementary school.
Our legs and arms were sticky against the green pleather seats. Our eyes were fixed on our neighborhood. The vice principal spoke into the intercom and told us about the children who live in Mews or Lifestyles apartments. “In this small city block lives 80% of our student body. And what breaks my heart is that 20% of the children who start the year with us move during the year. Their family might be sharing a room in one apartment, then renting the basement somewhere else, staying with relatives or friends in between. We have about a dozen students we know of who are homeless, though they are usually pretty quiet about that. Still, with housing so uncertain, can you imagine constantly having to start over again at a new school as the new kid?” Our hearts were open like day lilies, reaching to God for answers and ideas on how we might care for them.
And there they were, a mix of children from Honduras, the U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Afghanistan and Pakistan, playing in a dusty field together. We could tell their country of origin because many were wearing soccer (er… futbol) jerseys ahead of the World Cup. The bus cranked through the neighborhood with its diesel engine rumbling. Students were happily ignoring it, except for one mother and her child. Their faces lit up, waving at the vice principal, then waving at me. Her name was Mary, and she had been coming to a parenting class offered by our church on Wednesday mornings and the lunch and Spanish worship service that follows, so she hopped aboard the bus for a moment and said to her daughter, in Spanish, “This is our church, see?” Then she said in simple English, “Hello! My church!”
Even the rabble-rouser church officers in the back of the bus fell silent and then smiled and waved like 8-year-olds. The dividing lines between “us” in the pews and “them” in the community dissolved in the summer heat. It was “we.” It was the body of Christ, in the building and out of the building, on the move, at play, stretching and smiling and marveling at the beauty of God at work.
Becca Messman is the associate pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Virginia. She leads “Lunch for the Soul” – a ministry with Hispanic day laborers. Her other passions are preaching and offering pastoral prayers, leading retreats, energizing church leaders to serve the community around them, youth and young adult ministry, and cultivating the “fear and trembling” holy journey of parenting. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Dave, her two young children, and her dog Luna.