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It is obvious people enjoy pointing out the flaws of the church. And there are many. I know. As a pastor forty years I’ve seen them up close and personally.
But for every flaw I’ve seen ten virtues that often go little noticed, unthanked, unheralded. Case in point: In July of 1975 I was a newly minted Presbyterian minister. I’d moved from Atlanta to a tiny picturesque village in rural Virginia to shepherd a church of 75 souls. I had long hair then, wore bell-bottom corduroys, was a part of the Jesus Movement revival. The church was founded in 1825, conservative, mostly older people.
Anyhow, at noon one Monday I’d left the building for lunch. It was sunny and hotter and more humid than a dog’s breath. I immediately saw a prison truck at the curb. Ten sweaty, grimy inmates were in the rear, guarded by a no nonsense-looking man with a shotgun. And, all of them were preparing to eat their lunches. I walked over and suggested they pull into the church parking lot and eat in the shade of the giant oak tree. “That’d be real nice,” the guard said.
“And there are restrooms inside,” I explained. “You’re welcome, all of you, to use them.”
The prisoners lolled on the lawn, eating lunch. The guard was walking an inmate from the bathroom back out the door when Miss Eloise drove up in her new, sleek Cadillac Fleetwood. The grand dame of the parish who lived in a manor house, she took it all in swiftly—new minister, convicts, shotgun, restrooms…
I must admit I flinched, thinking I’d overstepped my bounds. That’s when Miss Eloise spoke, saying, “We have ice in the refrigerator, and there is plenty of cool water in the water fountain. Make sure they know.”
The guard thanked me with a handshake. He told me they’d be in the area two weeks and asked if they’d be welcome at lunchtime each day. “Yes,” I nodded.
Well, word riffled through the Village over the next few days that the new young pastor was allowing the convicts who were cleaning up the ditches to use the church building for meals and restrooms. “Won’t be fit for us to use on Sunday,” some were saying.
The elders took notice. The subject was on the docket for the next meeting.
“What’s going on? Can you give us a report?” I was queried. So I summarized the doings—Hot sun. Tired men. Merciful shade. Cool water. Bathroom breaks.
It was quiet for a few moments, everyone processing the facts. Then David spoke. “Well, the Bible says if you have done it for the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Heads nodded. And we moved on.
You weren’t there. I was. I saw it with my own eyes. Sometimes the church does get it right.
The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. Pastor Crotts may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.