All of last week I pretty much ate a daily dose of humble pie. It wasn’t the most epic parenting week ever and I certainly didn’t hold up to any pastor’s wife specs and qualifications last night at the Community Thanksgiving service. Let me paint the picture:
Once a year our awesome little community holds a Thanksgiving service on Sunday night. It either takes place in a predominately white church with a black pastor speaking or a predominately black church with a white pastor speaking. This year it was at a predominately black church. I should be used to these services by now because we attend every year and there are some things that are done differently in these services and that’s part of what I love so much about them. I truly love it but it would do me well to remember a few key things.
So last night we walk in and Randy places us in the third row behind all the ministers of our community. He then promptly leaves me and the kids sitting there by ourselves because he is whisked off to a private room where all the ministers gather and pray before the service. Makes sense but I forgot about this part. Not a big deal. Until you realize there’s nobody in front of you to watch for when to stand, sit down, or leave to put money in the offering. There is protocol to this stuff and you’re not always told what it is.
I start to notice myself sitting when EVERYone else is standing. Then I find myself starting to stand up when everyone else is still sitting. Nice one, Mel. I notice the nice looking couple behind me. She smiles and I admit to her I don’t know when to stand or sit. She says, “Just follow the leader.” Would be great except the ministers are my leaders and they have their own protocol of standing and sitting and it’s not always when the congregation does it. We sort of laugh together. And then I realize I’ve not introduced myself to them. I should welcome this nice couple. Oh I know – I should ask if they go to church here. No wait, we’re at the black church this year and they are lily white. They don’t go here. They might not even be FROM here. It’s Thanksgiving week. I bet they’re visiting family because I’ve never seen them at the Thanksgiving Community service before and it’s usually the same crowd every year. I’ll welcome them.
But I quickly get distracted by the fact that once again people are standing. I immediately stand up and fumble for my bulletin to find the words everyone is repeating. Responsive reading is so beautiful. I love it so much but I could not for the life of me find the place. I mumble words I think might fit in until I find my place. Finally I find the words and we’re on the last sentence.
This time I am quick to use my peripheral vision to see if we are sitting or singing or giving testimony at this point in the service. We are sitting.
I keep feeling the need to introduce myself to the people behind me. They are a sharp looking couple. She and I laughed together about not knowing when to do stuff and we’d soon have another mishap connection over the offering.
So what I love about black church offerings is they flat out get excited about giving. So much so that they have ushers that dismiss you by rows one by one. You take your offering down the aisle in front of everyone to put into a basket. It’s like a celebration. I really love the joy that seems to exude during this time.
But I would’ve had more joy if I had money to put in. Last year – no lie people – last year the pastor’s wife of the minister speaking – gave me a dollar to put in. She saw the look of horror that came over my face when they announced the offering and I didn’t have my purse and Randy was on the stage with the other ministers. I was so thankful for Mrs. Betty’s assistance.
Well, last night I forgot to bring money again and this time Mrs. Betty was on the other side of the church. There was no subtle sharing of the offering this time. I decided it might be safe to ask the woman behind me since we’d already laughed at some of the earlier mishaps. But something held me back – probably the fact she was a mere stranger passing through and how weird to ask for money. I would later learn it was the grace of God that kept my mouth shut.
Randy was two rows in front of me with an empty row between us. He turned around and saw the “no money!” expression on my face yet again.
He pulls out a wad of dollar bills for his inept wife and kids. I’m hoping he might smuggle them on page 327 of the hymnal but instead he stretches out far and hands the money over. I’m disappointed that I failed to remember the special offering again. I feel out of place. I don’t feel like I know what I’m supposed to be doing. Soon enough though my thoughts drift away from me and on to the awesome choir special that is going on. They are swaying, belting it out beautifully and people are walking the aisles with their money. I looked for the ushers in their white dresses but didn’t see any. They must be doing it differently this year. Looks like a free for all to me. I get excited when I see a few people from our own church there. They must have been sitting in the way back because I didn’t see them when we came in. I decide to file in after them. That’s when I see the look in Randy’s eye as I pass him. He quietly says, “I think you were supposed to go last. They are dismissing by rows starting in the back.”
Well of course they were and of course I missed my cue once again.
I turn to the same woman behind me and say, “Well, apparently I’m breaking all the rules tonight because I went too soon.” She was gracious and smiled and we giggled again.
The sermon was incredible and reminded us of what to truly be thankful for this Thanksgiving and to not forget the people who are being persecuted for Christ’s name. Would we be willing to die for Jesus. Are we that thankful for him?
Just as the service was about to conclude the Ministerial Alliance coordinator says, “We want to thank our city officials and dignitaries that might be joining us tonight. Our Mayor is with us tonight. Mayor, would you please stand.”
And directly behind me – that couple I had been confessing to all night long – that couple – they stood up as the Mayor of our city.
I’ve never had the desire to fall slain in the spirit but I can promise you I tried really hard to fall out in that moment. To fall out cold and never wake up until Black Friday 2016.
Ya’ll – I almost welcomed the Mayor of our city to our city. I made fun of myself ALL night long to his wife. I’m a dork. I’m a dork. I’m a dork!!!!!!
We get in the van to go home and I tell Randy of all the churchy mistakes I made and how mortified I was. He laughed and said, “So you didn’t know that was Jay Donecker and his wife sitting behind you?” Then to make matters worse our nine year old daughter pipes up and says, “Mom, how did you not know that? I’ve met him twice before and knew who he was.”
Well just put me to bed and wake me up in ten years please.