from Feb 2016
A couple of years ago I preached at a small congregation in Teaneck, New Jersey, just across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan.
The pastor there is a good friend of mine and had invited me out. It was summer so I was able to take my wife and daughters along, to make it into a vacation, and we had a blast doing all the touristy things that the city had to offer.
But what stuck with me on the trip wasn’t the Empire State Building. Nor was it Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. It was the little church in Teaneck on Sunday morning.
On Sunday I was walking from the parsonage to the church building and the first thing that caught my attention was the parking lot. It wasn’t that it was packed. There were no more than twenty cars in the lot, but what struck me was the variety. The limited number of vehicles made it easy to pay attention. I saw a high-end Lexus SUV parked next to a rust-bucket sedan from the 1970s that I very much doubted could run. There was a Toyota Prius with a rainbow sticker in the back window parked adjacent to a newer Ford Taurus that still boasted a Chris Christie bumper sticker.
So by the time I finally entered the sanctuary, I was already pretty sure that this was a sociologically diverse, multi-ethnic congregation—the kind where Hispanic was too broad of a category to be descriptive because there were parishioners from Mexico, Chile and Guatemala. And I was right. There were white people and black people. Young people and old people. People dressed to the nines, and people whose wardrobe suggested they had come in off the street. There were people who had gone to this congregation for forty years and people who were simply passing through town. There were no majorities or minorities of which to speak.
And you would not believe the potluck after this service. There was a little bit of everything. It was a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. No doubt.
If I’m honest, I’d never been in a congregation like that before. Growing up in middle Nebraska, I’d not imagined such communities existed. I thought they were like unicorns, magical and made up.
So I am in awe, trying to take all this in. The diversity. The fellowship. The worship. The empanadas. And right in the middle of this experience, the question presented itself:
“What on earth would bring this group of people together?”
I thought about it. I really thought about it, and the only answer I could come up with was, “God.”
When it comes down to it, I believe that essentially this is what the Church is: it is the community that has no reason to exist if God is not the one who gathers it. When we encounter communities like this one in Teaneck, we see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit all over the community. Such congregations are signs that the church is more than an anthropological artifact or a sociological phenomenon. They are signs that God is at work gathering together what we would divide.