Post Author: Kelsey Grissom
“Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.”
Sometimes we puzzle over the strangers who enter a church we’re serving. Some visitors are outgoing and eager to open up. But others? Even after seeing them a few times, we wonder: Who are they and where do they come from? What are they seeking? Are they church shopping? Just visiting the area? Or stopping for respite in the midst of a crisis? They may leave suddenly before we learn their stories.
In 2012, I was the stranger entering a church. I was living in Philadelphia with my husband and our 15-month-old son. We had just moved from our home in Alabama for my husband’s job, leaving behind our family, friends, and my career as a minister. I was starting to enjoy life as a stay-at-home mom, and loved living in a big city. But one day without warning, my husband told me that he wanted a divorce, and suddenly I found myself single and jobless with a baby, in a city 800 miles from home, with no family or friends nearby.
I was shocked, confused, afraid, hurt, angry, and totally alone. I did the only thing that I knew to do in a crisis situation: I found a church.
The church I stumbled into was a small congregation in a large, historic building. They were earnest and welcoming, the best kind of small church. Each Sunday I trekked thirty minutes across icy sidewalks with the baby in the stroller and arrived to handshakes and hugs from people I had only just met. They helped me with the stroller and took my son to the nursery, caring for him while I sat in the peace of the sanctuary and listened to the Gospel, Sunday after Sunday, “He heals the broken-hearted, he binds up their wounds.”
I slowly began to heal. Outside that sanctuary, everything was broken. I was trying to convince my soon-to-be ex-husband to let me go with our son back to Alabama, where I had help and a job. I was frazzled and stressed: sad and angry about my marriage, worried sick for my son, tired as only a single mother can be. But inside the sanctuary, there were people who cared about me and cared about my son and treated me with love and respect. They bound my wounds. The broken places began to mend.
Looking back now, I wonder how I must have looked to that congregation. I never told them that I was a pastor (they never asked what I did). And I didn’t tell them I was going through a divorce (they didn’t pry). To them I must have been just another exhausted young mother with nothing really to give: I never put anything in the offering plate, I never taught a Sunday school class, and I often failed to show up for events I said I would be present for. I was no one with nothing to offer, but they loved me, valued me, and welcomed me just the same. God provided, through them, a safe space for my son and me during the most difficult time in our life.
Shortly after I began attending that Philadelphia church, I received permission to move back to Alabama. I left suddenly and, never having told the congregation I was going through a divorce, also failed to tell them I was leaving. I must have seemed like one more person who floats in and out, taking in their love, leaving nothing behind but some shared experiences. Did they wonder if they had offended me, or somehow failed to provide what I was looking for? Or did they guess the truth: that they had given me the support and strength I needed to follow God into my future?
I think of this often, now that I am once again working as a pastor in my own churches here in the South. From time to time, strangers walk through our doors and sit down in the Sanctuary for worship. Sometimes, they may join our congregations, and other times, they may move on quietly, before we have a chance to hear their story. At our best, we shake their hands, and give them a hug, and offer them a place to rest, no matter who they are or what they do or do not have to offer.
Our task is to love them all the same, to offer hospitality and a place to heal. Because sometimes God sends us sparrows who need a safe place to heal and recover, until they are strong enough to find their way home.
Kelsey Grissom is a United Methodist elder and the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Kelsey is the Managing Editor of Fidelia’s Sisters and blogs at revkels.wordpress.com.
Image by: Moss
Used with permission