It has been many years since I have had to drive to church. Well, I guess that is not entirely true, since I drive to church when I am on vacation. But mostly, I walk to church. Every Sunday, I make my long commute from my home to my office, which is about 150 steps around the church driveway. (Yes. I counted. Yes. I know that is crazy.) Then, when the church bell loudly proclaims that I am almost late, I complete my trip to church with another walk, not so arduous or long, across the driveway to church. Only once, in recent memory, have I gotten into a car on Sunday morning here in Boxford, and that was to hunt down an item for my children’s message at CVS, to no avail. Mostly, my Sunday mornings are quiet and peaceful, leaving home before anyone is awake in order to best prepare my heart and soul (and sometimes my sermon) for worship.
So, Sundays have been very different than usual for me on Sabbatical. They are the days I most miss my people. They are the days I most miss my work. Don’t get me wrong, creating something worthy of our precious time together in worship, worthy of our Great God’s praise, week after week, year after year, is not easy. Which is to say, I do not miss writing sermons. (Although, ironically, with the storytelling work I am doing, I have plenty of sermon ideas brewing in my imagination). But, Sundays are when I most miss my church.
So hopping in a car, to drive away, to worship elsewhere, is its own sabbatical experience. I have gone to Arlington and Boston, as well as more locally, to North Andover, Georgetown and Andover. And while I have not always enjoyed the challenge of deciding where to go to church, I have discovered a certain measure of sabbatical truth from these Sunday morning drives.
There is, or so I thought, a lovely stillness about Sunday mornings. Maybe it is my imagination, but homes and neighborhoods seem quieter on Sunday mornings than usual. There is less traffic. There are no children waiting for school busses at the end of their driveways (or the all too common cars filled with children waiting for school busses at the end of their driveways). Sure, there are occasional bikers or runners or baby stroller pushers, but mostly it seems that Sundays are quiet when you drive through neighborhoods.
Except, that then you leave the neighborhoods where things are usually quiet, and you discover that Sundays are not actually still – at least not this particular Sunday. This day, there is a big festival on the town common that starts at 10 am Sunday morning. (The local church describes how to manage parking and travel given that roads are closed for the big event on their website.) Venders are out. Families are gathering. Music is playing. Police are directing traffic. Not for the church, of course, but on the town lawn for the annual festival that meets there.
Driving a bit farther, I discover more people congregating. This time it is at a local breakfast spot. It turns out that the line is out the door and spilling onto the sidewalk. Parking is at a premium. I decide this must be the place to be. Old and young, couples and families gather and wait for a spot to be nourished and fed. A few people carry their newspaper; many others stand glued to their phones as they wait. With a good measure of confession, I note that might be among those who would be using my phone. Uggh.
It turns out, there is a whole world buzzing with activity and choices for how to spend Sunday morning. Of course, I know this to be true. I am just not used to seeing it. Surely, I know that people make choices about where to be on Sunday mornings, and that the whole world doesn’t stop as it once did for people to spend their mornings in church.
Nevertheless, there is still something amazing about these Sunday morning activities. I mean, it used to be that Sunday mornings always had their own town festivals with music and celebration. But once upon a time, such gatherings were in our churches. And now, as we all know, not only are fewer people are in our churches, but also I hate to admit that many church gatherings feel less like a festival and more like a routine. Once upon a time, people were nourished and fed in church, too, but now so many choose to be filled by other, less satisfying, things.
These are the things I usually don’t see, at least not on Sunday mornings as I make my "long" 150 step commute across the driveway to prepare my heart and soul (and sometimes my sermon) for worship. It is not that I wish that the world was more like it used to be. It’s just that I want churches to be more like what they need to be, places which provide a community festival, where old and young gather, where folks are fed and nourished with goodness that lasts beyond breakfast. And even as I miss my church right now, I pray that I may ever become the kind of pastor, preacher and teacher that shepherds us to wherever God is calling us, so that we might nourish folks for generations to come, in the name of Christ who feeds us all.