Serving by sitting

(Christian Courier column, December 31st, 2011)

Maybe this has happened to you. You have to go to a meeting. You don’t really feel like it.

One Thursday night last month we had our fall congregational meeting. I didn’t feel like going at all. It was our first cold night, the kind of November dusk when inky blackness suddenly spills from the sky, cloaking the houses across the street by 5:30 PM. The kind of gloom that signals your inner grizzly bear to lumber to the nearest den. We’d had an early supper, the dishes were done, blue and orange flames  capering in the woodstove. It was a perfect night to stay home, enjoy a cup of coffee, curl up on the loveseat and watch the hockey game with my husband. I’d already been out on Tuesday night for catechism and choir practice and would have to go out again the next night for another event.

But, you guessed it, I went. I stared down my grumpy grizzly, touched up my makeup, re-fluffed my hair, left my husband to cheer on the new and improved Leafs alone.

I’m glad I went. The clerk had worked hard to get all the materials prepared in advance. He’d photocopied the agendas the previous week and inserted them into the mail slots. He’d set up the sound system and powerpoint the night before. He was slated to read the minutes from the spring meeting and to present the clerk’s report, so, naturally, he had spent time on those items, too. Before the meeting he also had to meet with the guest speaker and help her get wired up for her presentation.

The council chairperson had prepared for the meeting, too. He’s a busy guy. But he’d written out some remarks. The pianist, too, had prepared. She’d been busy that day, volunteering at the Christian school, but there she was, on this dark and windy night, ready to play, arriving with her music in hand.

The custodians had prepared. They’d set up the chairs, made coffee, and baked some cookies. After the meeting, they would do the dishes, check that the lights were turned off and make sure the doors were locked. They would get home late.

Our guest speaker, Marg Smit-Vandezande, had travelled some distance to speak to us about a Counselling Assistance Program offered by Shalem. This program helps churches and other organizations provide counselling services to their members. Her talk was accompanied by a clear and helpful slide show that she’d brought along. It was good for our congregation to hear about how we might be able to offer immediate assistance to hurting individuals or families.

Our treasurer and our finance committee had prepared a preliminary budget. We voted on that. Some other people gave reports about the ongoing work and ministry of our church. My friend Olga gave an enthusiastic review about the Day of Encouragement that she’d attended in Ancaster. Several individuals stood up to share opinions and thoughts on a variety of matters. We sang three hymns together. We prayed.

I had a serious five minute talk with an elder on my way out. It was a heart-warming moment of trust discussing things close to our hearts. He’s not someone I have a chance to chat with often.

All I really had to do at this meeting was sit. I simply had to provide the affirmation of bringing my body along to warm a chair. It’s a humble service, offering only your presence and your interest, but this, too, I think, is love.

And here’s how I know that’s true. After I’d grabbed my coffee and found my seat, the chairperson opened the meeting with these remarks: “Thanks for coming out tonight. It’s a cold night, and maybe you felt like you’d rather stay home, but thank you very much for coming out and caring about the business of the church.”

We’re in this together. An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s why I made chili for the potluck luncheon hosted by the Enfolding Committee, attended the Mission Trip planning meeting although I’m not signed up for the trip, and why I’m sitting in the pew at the second service pretty faithfully. There are a myriad of small, unsexy ways we can serve Christ and our neighbour if we have the will to do so. Here’s another quote I picked up on Facebook: “The measure of a life is not its duration, but its donation.” And guess what? Donation can be as easy as showing up and respecting the effort of others. It can be as simple as sitting in the circle, enlarging it just a bit.

Another year is dawning. Annie Dillard, Pulitzer-prize winning author, said, oh so wisely and succinctly, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” May we measure our days and our years in donations. Even the smallest, like sitting at a meeting, count.