by the Rev. Pam Sebastian
First Presbyterian Church, and Chaplin at Missouri Valley College
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God." (Ephesians 2:19-21)
It goes like this ... people who are absent from church for awhile and then come back may say, "Sorry, I haven't been here, I guess I've been bad." They seem to expect to be scolded.
In 20 years of ministry, I'm still not sure what to say. My fall-back is to be compassionate and nonjudgmental: "Hey, no problem. We'll be here when you need us!" That statement is true but it really isn't good enough.
Molly Baskins, a pastor in Maine, has some helpful suggestions:
"Maybe they need to be needed and missed. Maybe they need to know there's something at stake when they don't come. That, if they are formal members, the promises they made to the congregation matter. And even if they're not formal members, they matter, and we notice when they are gone and we are diminished by their absence.
"Maybe they need to hear that if they do come more often, their life might just get better. I say might, because churches are flawed institutions, mine among them! But if you want to get wet, you have to get in the water. If you want grace, peace, hope, comfort, growth, you have to get into -- or at least near -- the people and places that have them. It's really pretty simple, you can't win if you don't play."
And although God rarely tells us this to our faces, God needs us in church too. Some of us can only get the grace God wants to give us when we come through the door into a sweet, slightly dusty, hardworking, authentic faith community. It's not that grace is unavailable elsewhere ... it's just that we're turned to a particular frequency when we're together. Church is the structure in which the body of Christ is joined together and grows.
The say that 80 percent of life is just showing up, right?