Last weekend, we had a sudden and heavy dose of snow that kept many away from church on Sunday. Some of us have bad knees or canes or walkers, while others may have driveways connected to steep grades or unplowed roads. In other words, some of us didn’t have much business being out if we could help it.
It was no surprise there were four present at the 8 a.m. service. It was fine; we gathered in our beautiful little chapel, and after that service was done I could picture us gathering in there again for the 10:30 service. (For a good long while I sat in the chapel with the hood of my alb pulled up over my head; I even tweeted a photo of the stained-glass window I was sitting next to and mused about how quiet things were.) At about ten minutes after ten, there were about a dozen of us milling around, and I remarked that we would be warmer if we met in the chapel.
That was the precise moment that a member came down to the landing in the parish hall and said that the Davenport University women’s basketball team had parked a bus and was coming into the building for worship! We all high-tailed it upstairs to greet the team (I kept saying “Hello,” shaking hands, and craning my neck upwards to look them in the eye), their coaches, and the head coach’s spouse and kids. There was an even more urgent need reported: they had to be back on the floor at the Tyson Events Center right at 11:30. What were the chances we’d be able to give them communion?
When I first got out of seminary I went to a church near Houston where I learned to squeeze three worship services, Christian formation, breakfast, visitation, and snacks into four, four-and-a-half hours. I knew how to clear a path and do the liturgy on pace! But all along on this particular Sunday, from the opening confession (our Lenten practice) through the readings and the sermon and the Creed and prayers and celebration of the Holy Eucharist, I kept asking myself a rather urgent question: Is there anything we can set aside – at least as far as the liturgy goes – and still have church?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now in one form or another, so I thought perhaps this would be an opportunity to make a determination along the way in this very service. I was surprised to find that I was not predisposed to throw anything out; every element just seemed too important in its own way to get rid of. So I didn’t.
And we were finished in 55 minutes. Granted, it was 55 rushed minutes front to back done in a kind of breakneck way I wouldn’t want to make a habit of, but the service did serve the larger purpose of ministering to the team.
In retrospect, the image of a rapidly-winding-down shot clock now comes to mind. We only had a small window of time in which to minister, and we made it. They were served the Body and Blood of Christ and heard a message about the unending forgivness and love offered to all of God’s people through the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We did our part, but mostly God did God’s part.
That’s an image that works for members of the Davenport University women’s basketball team as well. Their season is now over, and they came close, but Indiana Wesleyan defeated them for the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship. Most of them will not go on to further greatness in basketball after their careers on the college court have ended; Davenport is a business college. The clock is winding down. They only have so long to handle the ball before deciding, and consulting with each other, on whether to pass or to shoot.
It was an easy decision not to cancel services on Sunday; after all, we only had two or three inches of snow and the main roads were mostly passable. Yet I don't want to think what might’ve happened – at least in this case – if we had cancelled, or if we had opened our doors, but not our hearts, to their need.