The Fourth Sunday of Advent was a full day at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. It started for me at the early service (which is not “dress rehearsal” for the 11:00 service, as some have implied, but a wonderfully intimate worship experience, precious to many, especially in a big church like this one). Imagine my surprise and delight when the choir sang a Mendelssohn piece, at full volume, before nine o’clock in the morning (not every choir can pull that off!). That was followed by a few quiet moments in my study, enjoying the coffee, pastry, cheese, and fruit Dot Smith lays out for me on a silver tray each Sunday (please don’t be jealous; she considers it a ministry, and I’m sure my preaching has improved as a result). And then there was a knock at the door—Joyce Chrisman, my secretary—asking me if I was on my way to the Pusey House to visit the Traveler’s Class.
“Um, am I supposed to be?”
Apparently I was. I gulped the last of my coffee and hurried out the door, across the street, and into the Pusey House with seconds to spare. I was intoduced to the class and as we talked about the curriculum they had been using I began to share some of my own thoughts on Bible study, which led into a discussion of the lectionary, and eventually a summary of my views on the mission and purpose of the church. When I finally looked at my watch I saw that I was late for my 10:30 appointment in the sanctuary, meeting the families and the babies who would be dedicated at the 11:00 service.
They were precious, those babies—two healthy boys named Andrew and Jake whom I presented to the congregation and prayed over. And although it was only my second dedication at First Baptist Church I managed not to drop anyone (whew!). I also managed to get through the sermon on live television before we cut to commercial, which is no small feat. You may not know this but when we’re broadcasting live I’m never entirely sure how much time I will have to preach. I know when I need to be finished but I don’t know when I will get to start. So I have to stretch or shrink the sermon to fit the available space. At the early service I had plenty of time, but because of the baby dedication I had to shave about five minutes off the sermon at the second service. For those of you who were paying attention that’s why there was no prayer at the end of the sermon on Sunday, and why the invitation was cut down to something like, “Please-stand-as-we-sing-Hymn-77-and-respond-as-you-feel-led.” But I did it. I finished before the red light went off, and I could almost hear the sigh of relief from the control room.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about.
You may remember that I went to the International Friendship Luncheon a few months ago and had a wonderful time, and you may remember that I mentioned a tiny girl from Bangladesh named Dighi who likes to be called “Doctor Pinky.” Well, we had another friendship luncheon on Sunday, and Dighi was at this one, too. When we started to sing Christmas carols I invited her to sit with me in one of the big wingback chairs there at the Pusey House. She did, and did her best to sing along with every carol even though she was holding her song sheet upside down (well, she’s two-and-a-half!). But when the luncheon was over and it was time to go Dighi came over to give me a hug. How could I resist? She’s about two feet tall with glossy black curls and beautiful brown eyes. I bent down from the chair I was sitting in and she reached up to put her arms around my neck. It was sweet. She started to walk away but then turned around and came back. I thought she was coming in for another hug, but instead she puckered up and kissed me right on the lips.
I think I was still blushing when I went to a meeting of the Permanent Planning Team at 3:00, which finished up just a little before the youth Christmas pageant at 6:00. The youth did a magnificent job, acting and singing their way through ‘It’s a Wonderful Birth” (Todd Ritter’s creative adaptation of the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”), but by the time I went home from the reception I realized I had been at First Baptist for more than twelve hours. It was a full day, as I said: a day when I was thrilled by worship, touched by a pageant, and smooched by an angel.
You just never know what will happen at church.