Before the service on Sunday, we set out 54 little cups of grape juice and bits of pita bread. 54 was a bit of an optimistic number for a congregation that hovers between 20 and 40 on any given Sunday, but in such cases I suppose it’s always better to be optimistic. Instead of sitting in our usual rows of metal folding chairs, we set up eight round tables, seven chairs around each one. Surprisingly, there were very few empty seats.
This is how my church celebrated our sixth birthday. Last year there was a party, but this year there were donuts and round tables and grape juice and pita bread, and 46 people sitting around the tables in metal folding chairs.
This church has been a part of me and I a part of it for about three and a half of those six years, since a cold Sunday in February when I first walked through the doors of the Chicago school building where we meet.
At some point, I’m sure we expected more. We expected to outgrow our school cafeteria, to find a permanent building, to have bigger ministries, to set up sound equipment that doesn’t get pushed in and out the door on carts each week, to have more than 46 people gathered around round tables and folding chairs and little cups of grape juice and bits of pita bread.
Sometimes I’m just tired of praying for miracles that never happen. I’m tired of praying for the seats to fill up and for all the cancer to be cured and for the bank account to have a positive number and for all of us to feel like we’re doing this right. I can’t fully explain why, even though I’m barely holding onto faith at all, I still show up every week. I still show up and set up sound equipment and sing the same songs with the same people each week.
We thought there would be something more, but instead we have 46 people gathered together, saying “this is the body of Christ, broken for you.” We have 46 Republicans and Democrats and children and adults and senior citizens all sitting together at eight folding tables.
There’s something so un-sexy about expecting something more, but showing up anyway. I know it’s counterintuitive to be a part of a church that’s not growing, because it goes against everything we’ve been taught. We’re supposed to reach the world and expand the kingdom and show the fruit of our efforts. If we’re teaching the Word of God, they say (whoever they are), people will come to hear it.
But it seems fitting in a way to be in a community of people who keep doing this church thing even when it seems like treading water. It’s hard, but we show up anyway. We come for mediocre coffee in paper cups and donuts and grape juice and pita bread, and we keep praying for God to show up in the midst of it all.