Close Enough to Walk


snow boots 3This week I moved to the suburbs.

It’s only temporary. My daughter and her husband are away and Christy and I are house sitting and dog sitting in the West End. But I am gaining a whole new appreciation for commuters.

I thought about it while I was stuck in traffic on Wednesday.

At my first church Christy and I lived in the parsonage. It was in the “suburbs” of New Castle, Kentucky, which means that it was still less than a mile from the church, directly across the street from the courthouse in that sleepy, county seat town.

When we moved to Wingate, North Carolina, we also lived in the parsonage, but this time we were practically in the church’s backyard. On Sunday mornings (and almost every day) I could walk to work in less than a minute. But it was there I learned how important it is to live close to the church.

There was one snowy Sunday morning when any pastor in his right mind would have called things off. We weren’t used to snow that far south, and there was a lot of it. It was still coming down thick and fast when I walked over around 9:00 and opened the doors. I found a snow shovel and cleared off the front steps but still nobody came for Sunday school. Around 10:30 the first person showed up for worship, and by 11:00 there were seven of us—total. Our organist wasn’t there. I ended up playing the three hymns I know how to play on the piano so we sang, “Amazing Grace,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “In the Sweet By and By.”

I preached the sermon I had prepared and as those six hardy parishioners were leaving the service one of them said, “I needed this more than you know.” He said it with tears in his eyes, which may have led to my conviction that worship is important, and that the doors of the church should be open every Sunday morning, no matter how bad the weather is outside.

So when we moved to Washington, DC, it was important to me to live in the city, not the suburbs. I wanted to be close enough to the church to walk if I had to, just so I could open the doors on Sunday mornings. The closest house we could find was four miles from the church, but I thought “I can do that.”

One Sunday morning I did. A blizzard was dumping two feet of snow onto the city and when I left home I could hardly find my way to the street. I got onto Military Road and walked through Rock Creek Park to 16th Street. There I was able to catch a bus that dropped me off right in front of the church. I opened the doors and shoveled the snow and at 11:00 there were 25 people in the small side chapel of that huge sanctuary. I didn’t play the hymns, but we had church, and when I gave the invitation three people came forward—an astonishing percentage of the total congregation.

So, when we moved to Richmond we were looking for a house within walking distance, and found one in the Museum District that is an eight-minute walk from church. On every Sunday morning since then (with the exception of two), that’s what I’ve done: I’ve walked to church. And on every Sunday morning since I’ve been here we’ve had church, no matter what the weather was like outside.

I always tell people: “On those snowy days look out your front door, and if it looks like you might slip and fall going down the steps then stay home. I trust you to use your own good judgment.” But I will put on my hiking boots, and grab my trekking poles, and make my way carefully to church. I will open the doors and shovel off the steps. And if absolutely necessary I will play the three hymns I know during worship. But we will have church, because it’s important,

And you never know who might need it.