I entered the sanctuary hoping to slip into a back pew, but the church was crowded. A summer Sunday during late June in Portland, Oregon, would normally mean a choice of seats, but this Sunday the space was packed. General Assembly was in town and the congregation swelled as a result.
The pews were all but full and finding a seat that allowed for anonymity and a quick escape (if summoned to work) was difficult. I went to sit on the narrow wooden bench that lined the wall under the stained glass windows. When I arrived there was one lone man seated there, just beside the chancel doors. I sat down and he jumped up waving his hands like a ref does when a runner slides safely to base. But his was a gesture not of safety but of urgent warning. “No, no, no!” he said as gently as his troubled face could muster. “It is old!”
Seeing the alarm on the man’s face, I instinctively stood up. He was so small I might have mistaken him for a child except for the gray hair around his temples. He was simply dressed: no suit, no tie. He smiled and said, “Look for the supports.” He bent his small body in half, peered under the bench and took several steps until he came to the wooden spindled legs peppered dangerously far apart under the bench that spanned the entire length of the sanctuary. “Look for the supports.” He tapped them and smiled. “It’s OK to sit, you just need to look for the supports.”
I thanked him. Truly, I was grateful as I did not want to be the one to bust the bench on the Sunday when a good portion of the Presbyterian world would witness me falling on my, well, you know.
The service began and more and more people joined the Body. Many of them, like me, were looking to slide in inconspicuously and went for a seat on the bench. The man at the door kept jumping up to warn them of their potential downfall. Arms waving, “No, no, no!” He whispered, “Look for the supports.” Over he bent, tap, tap, tap, “See?”
This went on throughout the service, with one ominous creaking sound and a more urgent, “No, no, no!” midway through the second hymn.
I wondered if this doorkeeper of the Lord was stationed there every Sunday for just this purpose as an official member of the ushering and greeting team, or if he took the duty upon himself as many church people do when they see a need.
Regardless, for me, on that Sabbath, he became the sermon, the witness, the Word made flesh.
“Look for the supports.” As the crowd swelled and more worshippers went for the bench, people seated on the back pews started to help with the protective admonition. The job was too big for one person. No one wanted bench or congregant to collapse. “Look for the supports” became a liturgical response to the movement of the people.
As I listened to the man and his impromptu followers, I thought of people I knew who needed support. Particular people came to mind: the teenager who’d tried to hang herself, the friend in the midst of chemo, refugees, the people sleeping on the sidewalks just outside the sanctuary.
I worried that I had not been a capable doorkeeper for the Lord over the years. I had not been as vigilant as that small man. I’d been seated up front. I didn’t always know what was happening on the periphery. I don’t think I told people to look for the supports and I am certain I didn’t show them explicitly where to find them.
There are supports to be found in the church, but many people don’t know where to find them. They may never have been in the sanctuary before. They need to be invited. They need to be shown the places that can bear their weight and the weight of their burdens. We insiders need to hang around the periphery, get up, bend down, tell of the supports in the church and, more importantly, the support of Jesus Christ, so others can find rest, body and soul.
Grace and peace,