“The prayers of all good people are good.”
—the grandfather of Jim Burden, in My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Worship was my first language. I began attending church in utero, and I still love going to church. It’s a marvel to me. Would you look at us?, I think to myself every Sunday. Despite the other options, all of us chose to be together today. Everyone here needs something, or knows that someone else needs us...or both.
On my last trip to New York, I attended worship at a well-known progressive Christian church. Despite being warmly welcomed over and over by the greeters, by the family sitting behind me, and by the lead pastor, I couldn’t shake that “guest” feeling.
The more I watched people exchange easy intimacies of friendship, the more I felt like an outsider. It didn't help—and it took me a long time to realize this—that I had unwittingly seated myself in pews reserved for the children’s choir. (They didn’t seem to mind, so I stayed put.)
Worship began. We sang; we prayed. The children clattered up to the chancel and sang their hearts out as we rocked, clapped, and sang along with them. Shortly after they’d settled back around me, the pastor invited the congregation to say the Lord’s Prayer in any language or words that were meaningful to us.
Ever-loving and holy God, hallowed be your name. Your reign come…. As I recited the prayer, I closed my eyes—until I felt someone’s hand slip into mine.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins… The small, brown hand curled around mine belonged to an eleven-year old boy—the same child who, when I whispered “Great job!” to him after the choir’s piece, had shyly looked at his shoes. But as the congregation prayed out loud together—all of us, I could now see, holding hands across the sanctuary—he had confidently reached out for the hand of a stranger.
That matter-of-fact gesture—I may not know you, but this is what we do here—was an announcement of belonging. It claimed me as part of something larger. After the congregation’s unison “Amen,” I continued my own silent prayer: I trusted that you were here, Gentle One, moving within and among us… but thank you for showing yourself in the hand that reached out for mine.
Would you look at us, Gentle One? Some of us are confident we belong to you and to one another, but some of us feel lost. Help us find one another so that everyone knows that we all belong.