When I graduated from law school, my friend and fellow graduate Shannon threw a big party at a country club type of place. Before we went, my dad told me he wasn’t that comfortable going to events like that where he might be required to mingle with people he didn’t know. But he went anyway. After the photos were developed (yes, it was that long ago), I noticed that my dad was in the background talking to a different individual in almost every picture. So much for dad’s aversion to socializing.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen dad visiting with numerous people. When I was a kid and we arrived at church early, I watched my dad walk around the sanctuary, shaking hands, saying hello to the members of our small congregation. I didn’t think much of it at the time because it was just what dad did at church along with leading our hymns or singing a special song on occasion. Small churches require folks to take on many roles. My mom tells the story about dad leading the Sunday School program in engaging the community surrounding the church. Some neighbors started attending after that effort, so I grew up in an integrated church, not knowing that was a rarity in America.
As I’ve grown older and become heavily involved in my own small churches, in St. Louis, Missouri, and Frisco, Texas, I’ve realized that observing my dad all those years influenced how I relate to my faith communities. For the last twenty plus years, I’ve served in a lot of positions at church but my most consistent role is that of greeter. I love to welcome people to church, to shake hands, to give hugs, to check in to see how they’re doing. I enjoy meeting visitors and learning their names. If I don’t talk to you at the front door, I’ll probably catch up with you during the passing of the peace or after the service. The ability to know almost everyone in attendance is one of the upsides of belonging to a smaller congregation.
I’ve learned that not everyone enjoys greeting. Standing at the front door and chatting is uncomfortable for some. I didn’t understand that at first. I guess I assumed that because I liked greeting, everyone else would too. But I’ve heard from several people that this was not their calling. The Apostle Paul wrote that the body of the church, in which many members have various gifts, is like a physical body with differentiated parts (1 Cor. 12:13-31). For example, I don’t like to make meals for others. Some people show the love of Christ by lovingly making delicious food for which I’m grateful. If I sign up to bring a meal to someone in need, it will be take-out.
We can all focus on sharing the gifts, strengths, and talents we have with the broader faith community. In so doing, we can build up Christ’s kingdom and enjoy the work at the same time because we are fulfilling God’s call to help with the gifts God has given us. When we serve with passion and love, we inspire others to do the same, including the children who are watching.
My dad turns 75 years old today. He doesn’t get out much anymore because of Parkinson’s Disease. But every time I use our shared gift to meet people in the name of Christ, his legacy continues to grow as a testament to God’s work that continues. Let us find ways to use our gifts so that we can joyfully demonstrate God’s love to everyone. Happy Birthday, Dad.