Storming the Sanctuary

Day 6/30

My blood never boiled in a pulpit more than January 10, 2021… the Sunday after the attack on the Capitol.

Because of Covid, we were not having in-person worship. And because it was after Christmas, the lead pastor was out and I was preaching the sanctuary service. We were recording live on Sunday mornings because that’s when musicians and pastors were all available to be there anyway. I was preaching a series on living a regret-proof life titled,

wait for it,

Hindsight’s 2020.

Of course, everyone wasn’t happy that we were online. Some were quite upset. But some were upset when we were open too. There really was no winning after nine months of lockdown, masks, max capacities, and no communion. Sidenote: There’s still no winning. Y’all cut your pastors a break.

About an hour before worship we had our pre-service meeting. It was a pretty big church with a formal sanctuary service. So there were always several folks leading. We went over the order, announcements, and made sure everyone knew their parts.

Just as the meeting ended, someone came to tell us there was a crowd of people in the sanctuary in protest.

We were all in shock. What should we do? Should we cancel? We were, after all, closed for safety reasons. If we continue should we acknowledge them? Call them out? What about the folks at home about to log on for worship? The whole team felt intimidated and bullied. Suddenly the joy of prepping for worship was replaced by anxiety brought on by folks who were used to getting their way.

We chose to continue. But I asked the camera operator to keep the shots tight so you couldn’t see the pews. And I asked everyone speaking not to say anything on camera about the disruption. There were humble folks at home, some who agreed and some who disagreed with the leadership’s call to go online, who were going to log in for a word of grace and we were going to give it to them as best we could.

I have to say, I’ve never been prouder of a team. Even though everyone’s blood pressure was through the roof, no one stumbled. The musicians didn’t miss a note. The speakers were pros. And I think I did a pretty good job preaching, if you can do so while staring a hole in the back camera.

Preaching is an emotionally draining event. When I preach I make sure to get a good night’s sleep. I wake up early to make sure I know my stuff. I try to keep interactions before the service joyful and light. When folks want to talk before worship about something that’s really important to them, I usually ask them if we can meet Monday.

So this kind of display was pretty distracting.

After the benediction I left out the side door and went straight to my car. It was there that I read an email on my phone forwarded to me by another leader who’d intercepted their plans the night before. Copied and pasted verbatim:

I invite you to attend (with cdc protocol guidelines) service tomorrow at 8:40. Recent

events have proven that discontinuance of attendance is an agenda we do not endorse.

I will be there to show my support of our church and its endeavors. Will you?

Sent to 39 email addresses from one of the church’s trustees – the committee in our denomination responsible for the safety and care of the church property. 18 showed up.

The week following, another associate pastor and I wrote accounts of what happened and how it hurt the team. They were never shared. It was swept under the rug to keep the peace.

They didn’t come back the next week. And none of the protestors ever spoke to me about it. That was the beginning of the end for me.

I should say aside from their presence and the hateful looks they were well behaved. And I sympathized with their cause. I prefer in person worship. But worship is not what I would say happened in the sanctuary that morning.

Most of the regrets in my life have come when I knew I was most sure of my self righteousness and I behaved as any zealot does – high and mighty to make my point.

Through high school I lived on Lake Martin and one summer some of our non-resident neighbors hosted a family reunion and they placed signs all the way up the road to the highway pointing the way. This was before everyone had a GPS in their pocket. The reunion came and went. But the signs stayed. So one day I picked them all up and wrote on them in permanent marker something to tune of: DON’T LEAVE YOUR TRASH ON OUR ROAD. And I leaned them against their mailbox. I’ve repented of most of my teenage sins. But I never made this one right and it bothers me. I didn’t even know their names and they’ve sold the cabin since then. So if you’re reading this neighbor, I’m really sorry for being an ass.

Should they have picked up their signs? Sure. Should I have defaced them. Of course not..

I was an arrogant teenager completely assured of my righteousness over litter on the road. It’s the same self righteous mindset that erected a noose for Mike Pence and the same self righteous mindset as the crowds shouting crucify.

I’m convinced the reason Jesus said turn the other cheek and Paul said consider others better than yourselves is because they knew when we’re convinced we’re most right is when be become most hurtful. It’s what Job’s friends did. It would’ve taken less time for me to just pick up the signs and return them.

Should the church have kept in-person worship going? Maybe. Hindsight’s 20/20.

Should they have chosen the sanctuary as the place to enforce their agenda? Probably not.

I have a confession. I didn’t write most of this piece this morning. I wrote it in advance because I needed some trusted friends to see it and hold me accountable. There’s a real possibility that I could be guilty of the exact same sin that led me to deface my neighbor’s reunion signs. No doubt many will be angry I wrote about it. That led to some pretty deep discussion about the lines between hurt and harm. Some pain is harmful and causes damage. Some, like working out and surgery, is healing.

My prayer is that this is the latter; that we who claim Christ as our head recognize our blood pressure rising as we watch the nightly news, give wide berths for grace and consider how our actions may cause harm, no matter how right we are.

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