Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Overchurched--a story (ii)

Then, Sunday night, Betty and Glen canceled Fellowship Disciples, which was, as the whole group knew, supposed to meet at their place that week. When she called Sharon Blankesdyk to tell her it was off, Betty gave no reason. “We can’t–okay?” she said, and Sharon told Pastor Dobbins that if Betty hadn’t sounded so incredibly upbeat–she’d even asked about Blankesdyk’s poodle, who’d been to the vet a thousand times lately–if Betty hadn’t sounded so, well, in control, Sharon would have asked what was going on because Betty Andress simply doesn’t shrug responsibilities. It’s not like her. And then, “I think she’s a good five years from menopause,” she told Pastor Dobbins.

It was time for a visit. He planned it well. He tried to plan to pull up to her door, unannounced, just when she got home from work, just before she started into supper, and it worked. When he got there, her car was there in the driveway. No one else seemed to be home. Glen, he knew, didn’t get back from the Avery Building until six, because he could never make Afternoon Men’s Prayer Partners.

He rang the bell–twice, three times, then opened the screen and knocked on the door. Nothing happened. She had to be home. He pounded, used the back of his hand. Maybe she had the TV on. Maybe she was showering–she said she’d been working out.

Then, just for a moment, he thought the worst. Maybe she was drinking or something, having an affair. Stop it, he told himself.

He put his hand up to the window, cupped it, and looked inside but saw nothing, no lights. It seemed as if no one was home. And that’s when he heard her voice behind him.

“The last window-peeker in this neighborhood got tossed in the jug,” she said.

He turned around quickly, and saw her coming up the driveway in a wet suit, of all things, matching tank-top and pants, bare mid-riff, her hair a mess of tangles, a towel draped around her neck.

She motioned behind her. “I’ve taken up kayaking,” she said. “I know it sounds trendy, but I like it, okay?”

“Okay,” he said.

“What am I missing?” she said. “There was something on the calendar again, wasn’t there? I’m supposed to be somewhere now–or is it tonight?”

“I just thought I’d drop in,” he said.

“That’s a lie,” she told him. “I’ve been around preachers my whole life, you know–my dad was one. Preachers don’t just drop in.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “I thought I’d stop and see how you’re doing.”

“You’re concerned, aren’t you?” she said, shaking out her hair.

It was, for Pastor Dobbins, slightly disconcerting to be talking to her in that wet suit, even though she was at least a decade older than he was.

“I’ve decided to take up kayaking religiously,” she said, laughing, as if it were a joke. “Call it mid-life crisis–call it what you want. But I decided I’m not missing an hour on the lake.” She pointed behind her at Lake Burlein. “You want to know what’s wrong with me, Jack? It’s really quite simple. I haven’t stopped to smell the roses. I haven’t spent enough time in peace. I haven’t actually watched the loons, even though I’ve lived only a block away.” She picked the towel off her shoulders and rubbed at her short hair. “I haven’t even looked at that lake for far too long. I haven’t let silence come over me like a blanket, like a rich quilt. I’ve been in church forever, but I’ve almost never listened to a God of peace.”

There she stood on her driveway, still dripping, firmly placed between him and his car, like some forever obstacle.

"I’m okay,” she told him. “I’m just fine, and so is the whole family.” She peeled some thin gloves off her hands and stuck them in the edge of pants. “We love the Lord,” she said, “but sometimes–and don’t take this personally, Jack–but sometimes we just get tired of the church. Does that make any sense?”

The church, Pastor Dobbins told himself, was the bride of Christ.

“Maybe it’s just a phase,” she said. “Don’t get all creepy about it, because maybe it’ll pass–like a kidney stone,” she told him, giggling. “But right now I’m feeling no pain.”

“If there’s anything I can do,” he said.

“I’m overchurched, Jack,” she said. “Glen and I have talked about it a lot, and we’re just plain overchurched–that’s what we’re calling it.”

Pastor Dobbins had no idea what she was talking about.

“At Fellowship, we’ve got all kinds of programs for the unchurched, and we’ve got activities galore for the underchurched, but Glen and me–we’re overchurched, okay?” She pointed out at the lake. “What I need is the loons, all right?”

But that one kept zinging through Pastor Dobbins’ mind, like a golf ball in a tile bathroom–overchurched. In all the magazines he’d been reading, with all the programs he’d been going to on church growth, on Generation X, on seeker fellowships, he’d never seen that word–the overchurched. “Where’d you hear that?” he said. “Where’d you pick up that word?”

She rolled her shoulders as if she were getting stiff, then pointed at her temple. “It just came to me, like handwriting on the wall. It’s a word that belongs to us–Glen and me, but you can use it.” She smiled, turned her head slightly, and wrinkled her nose. “I got a meal to fix or else I’m going to be the one who’s in hot water,” she told him, and he got out of her way.

“I’m okay,” she told him. “I really am.”

Pastor Dobbins couldn’t sleep well that night, and the next morning when he was supposed to be thinking about the videos he’d be using in his Sunday morning presentation, he couldn’t get that word out of his mind–the overchurched.

He kept telling himself there had to be a ministry there. He kept insisting that there was something the church could do for people like Betty Andress–there had to be programs. He started making mental notes to himself, then jotted down the word on the little notebook he kept beside his computer, circled it several times, starting drawing lines that radiated out from it for ideas that might come in a brainstorm.

Would you spell it with a hyphen or not? Should the C be a capitol letter? What might the ministry look like? What could Fellowship Church do, really, to meet the needs of the overchurched.

There was a ministry here, a forgotten ministry. There were seminars waiting to happen, weeknight activities to be planned, even liturgies to be written,. They could go kayaking–of course. They were right–Glen and Betty–they were absolutely right. Unchurched, underchurched–and now the overchurched. It was an idea whose time had come.

He decided to call a meeting. He thought it might be a good idea to start a committee. After all, there were things to be done.

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