The least

This Sunday and the past Sunday I drove a neighbor who is temporarily without a car to her church. It’s quite a small church and not even half full, and the attendees fit the pejoratives for backwoods hillbillies. All have the bedraggled look of uncultured rustics more used to working outside then meeting indoors, and mental handicap is overrepresented. The pastor is undistinguishable from a number of retired farmes I worked for in my younger days, without polish, without any social instinct.

If you happen on this frank description as a stranger, do not take offense. I sometimes appear at first glance to be a member of the cultured middle class, but my background is as bedraggled and uncultured as anyone in that church, and the smooth solicitations of a polished pastor sour my stomach more than the unbounded joviality that is styled hospitality by retired country boys.

I have described the social status of these churchgoers so thoroughly because it puts me in a minor quandary. If I walk out of their building with no desire to return, I immediately suspect myself of shallow motives, of snobbishly deducing that they have no bright prospects in their economic or intellectual future and wanting to find a shinier crowd who can flatter me as well as I them. I have no doubt that these are the kind of people Jesus sought out. Who am I, then, to turn away? I might seek those with whom I can discuss the complexities of theology and the subtleties of error, but this is warranted by neither the work nor word of Christ.

But when all these outward things are passed over, this church has every bit as much–that is, as little–as every other church I have visited of that crucial thing, fellowship. Here, not for the first time, we shake hands with sundry people during the middle of the service. Here, not for the first time, the pastor takes prayer requests from the congregation. But there is not fellowship, there is not meeting as equals to discuss the scripture as it is given to us, each one according to his or her gift, freely.

So they are doubly impoverished; and I imagine I could help. Could I? I have nothing but what I have been given, and have been given less than I think I posess. Rather than attempting to do what I think I could, I hope to do only what I should. Some say that seeing the need is hearing the call. Others, that seeing a need greater than you can fill is to teach humility and dependence on God.

What, then, is the least I can do?