I admit I didn’t want to go to church that morning. It was cold and unusually foggy. My bed felt warm and inviting. Catching up on sleep sounded like a great idea. But something convinced me to get up and go.
An hour later I sat in a pew, feeling blessed and at peace, letting the beautiful sounds of the choir wash over me:
“Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.”
I looked around. Who was I gathering with today? A row ahead of me was an elderly woman who has greeted me with a smile and a twinkle in her eye ever since I began coming to this church more than 20 years ago. Across the aisle sat one of my best friends who – due to hectic family schedules – I don’t get to connect with nearly as much as I’d like to these days. How fortunate that God keeps us close just by allowing us to worship together! Behind me, a mother with a son my daughter’s age. In front of me, young and aging couples, families, widows and widowers, a businessman, a retired schoolteacher, a newcomer or two…
Pastor Bill began preaching about the church being a cloud of witnesses that “surrounds you all the time, helping you learn and grow.” Amen, I thought. Because that’s how it feels to me. Surrounded. Taken in. Accepted.
The church, Pastor Bill continued, isn’t really a place but rather a gathering of the people of God: “Even if this building were to disappear tomorrow, our church would still be here.”
I smiled to myself in agreement. In that moment I felt God’s presence – within these walls, among these dear people.
When some folks hear that I’m a church goer, they say, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” I can respect that, but I think they are missing out. Because for me, this church is far from an “organization” and much more like a family. The members here have seen me through a chronic illness and the birth and baptism of two children. They’ve taught my kids in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School – and I’ve taught theirs. We’ve sat side-by-side in worship, in committee meetings and at weddings, anniversaries and funerals. We’ve brainstormed new ways to worship and grow our congregation, made decisions about the church’s finances, and celebrated and grieved hand-in-hand. Together we’ve made music to glorify God, packed food and supplies for the needy, and brought meals and smiles to shut-ins. And we’ve prayed together – for ourselves and each other, for our families and friends, for our community and for our world.
Indeed, at PCWS our bonds are strong. Even on cold, foggy days, the light that shines from within this church warms and welcomes anyone who steps inside.
Driving home from church that Sunday, I noticed the fog had lifted enough to showcase the brightly colored leaves on the trees along the streets. That, I thought, is exactly what this church does: It surrounds you, protects you, supports you…then gently sends you off to beautify the rest of the world with God’s love.
Member of PCWS