KOH2RVA: Day 178

winterYesterday morning at staff meeting we talked about whether or not to cancel our regular Wednesday evening activities this week.  It was a tough call.  None of the forecasters could agree on what the weather was going to be.  Some said we could get eight inches of snow.  Others said it would only be rain.  Eventually I asked, “What do we lose if we cancel Wednesday evening activities?”

We don’t lose money (Wednesday night suppers break even on a good night, and we don’t take up an offering at our Wednesday evening services), but we do lose choir rehearsals, discipleship classes, youth and children’s programs, worship, and one of the most important things of all: fellowship.

What happens around the tables at Wednesday night supper is essential to the life of our community.  We need some un-programmed time to talk with each other, laugh with each other, and tell the story of our day.  For many of our members who live alone, it is an essential mid-week boost.

I’ve quoted Gary Gunderson before, an expert on faith and health, but look at what he says about the effects of a faith community on health:

“Medical science has noticed that over a life span, people who have a faith community—not just a faith, but a faith community, a local congregation—it is as healthy for that person as smoking is unhealthy,” he said.

Because it’s not just fellowship we share around the tables: it’s love and concern.  We pray for each other, check up on each other, and when we’re sick we take each other casseroles.

The leading cause of death in the U.S. is almost a tie between an unhealthy diet and smoking. But according to Gunderson, if you ask the opposite question, “What is the leading cause of life?’ the data says the answer is “participation in a community of faith.”

We eventually decided to call off our regular Wednesday evening activities this week, but we didn’t do it lightly.  We knew that if we didn’t call it off some people would fight their way through those 1-2 inches of snow just to be at church, and someone might skid sideways in the road, or slip and fall in the parking lot.  We didn’t want to run that risk.  But Gary Gunderson helps me understand there is another risk out there, one that many people don’t consider, and that is the risk of not participating regularly in a community of faith.

I hope you will help me get that word out.  Maybe you could do it tonight when you’re not at church.  Call some people, post on Facebook, write some letters, send some emails.  Tell people that participating in a community of faith is as good for their health as smoking is bad.  And then, on Sunday, when it’s supposed to be 64 degrees and sunny in Richmond,

Come to church.

Jim’s Snow Policy

Dear Members and Friends of Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

We’ve had some snow in the last 48 hours–lots of it.  The small, round table on my deck looks like a wedding cake, piled high with at least twelve inches of fluffy white snow.  It’s beautiful, but it does raise the question: Will we have church tomorrow?

It has been my policy for years now to open the doors of the church on Sunday morning no matter what the weather, and I’ve done it: I’ve bundled up and hiked through the snow simply because there might be someone in the neighborhood who needs to hear the Gospel and feel the warmth of Christian love.  One Sunday morning in DC the snow was coming down thick and fast, eventually piling up to a depth of more than two feet.  We only had 25 people in church that day but three of them joined the church when I gave the invitation.  I don’t think I’ve had a Sunday since when 12 percent of the congregation responded to the altar call.  I’ll be at church tomorrow, and I hope you will, too.

But it has also been my policy to ask members to use their own good judgment and not take any unnecessary risks to come to church.  If you look out the front door on Sunday morning and think, “I could fall and hurt myself,” then please stay home.  You have my permission.  Tomorrow, especially, you have some options: we’ll be broadcasting the service live on Channel 8 at 11:00 a.m. in the Richmond area, and air the usual live webcast at www.fbcrichmond.org.  We won’t have an 8:30 service tomorrow and we won’t be having Sunday school, but if you can make it to the 11:00 service without risking life or limb I’d love to see you there.  And if you can’t make it in person I’ll look for you on the other side of the camera.

In the meantime, appreciate the beauty of the snow, and the way it makes the world—for a little while at least—perfect and pure.

Jim

The Sound of Falling Snow

tree_snowing_800Yesterday was my daughter Ellie’s 21st birthday.  Hard to believe she’s been in the world that long!  In honor of the occasion I dug up a story that I wrote about her when she was four years old, when we went to visit her grandparents in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  It goes like this:

It had been a rough night.

We were staying at my parents’ house near Asheville and the girls were having trouble sleeping in unfamiliar beds.  It took a long time to get Ellie down and when I got to my room I found Catherine, my youngest daughter, snuggled up beside Christy with her head on my pillow.  I tried for several hours to sleep on the six-inch strip of mattress she had left to me, but finally staggered back to Ellie’s room and crawled in beside her.

At 5:30 the next morning she called my name.

“Daddy?”

“Umph?”

“I think I hear snow falling.”

And slowly i came to, and more slowly still I found myself glad again for children, for their innocence and imagination.  Only a child would lie awake listening for a sound that can’t be heard—snowfall, or the hooves of reindeer on the roof.  Think how much more sleep we would get, and how much more life we would miss, if it weren’t for them!  I reached for Ellie’s hand, and together we lay in the darkness, straining our ears for the imperceptible sound of falling snow.

It was much later in the day that I thought how much Christmas is just like that.  In all the noise of this season those of us who believe hold hands and strain to hear the sound of Incarnation.  Above the roar of jingle bells, office Christmas parties, and the unwrapping of gifts we listen for the imperceptible hush of God breathing through human nostrils.

And some of us would swear that we hear it.