It was Meningsbee’s style to arrive at the Garsonville church mere moments before the service was set to begin.
He chose this profile not because he had a flair for dramatics or wanted to bring attention to himself, but rather, desired to communicate that he was arriving with the congregation instead of waiting to greet them.
But a phone call from a very confused deacon, Mack Robbins, had summoned him immediately to the church because of “strange doings.” Now, the term “strange doings” in a small Nebraska town could range from a fourteen-cent hike on the price of gasoline at the local pumps to somebody wanting to show off a two-by-four that had stuck itself in a tree during a tornado years ago.
But in this case, Deacon Mack was very concerned because fifteen young people from the high school had arrived at the church early with candles in hand and had slowly marched to the front of the sanctuary, sat down lotus style in the front, lit their candles and quietly hummed some unknown tune. (Mack did not recognize the melody, but felt it was not a common hymn.)
Those who were arriving for normal church did not know exactly what to do. Should they be seated? Should they ask the young people what they were up to? Or should they freak out, call their minister and plop the problem on him?
Being good religious folks, they chose the latter.
So when Meningsbee arrived, he saw his entire congregation standing in the vestibule, peering through the partially frosted windows, staring at the circle of adolescent candle-bearers. Collectively, his sheep turned to him, looking for direction from the shepherd.
He whispered, “Why don’t we just go sit down?”
Everyone nodded as if they had heard wisdom from the great King Solomon.
The ninety-five people tiptoed their way into the sanctuary, found seating places and then waited for the Reverend to take care of the bizarre predicament.
Meningsbee perched himself near the front, crossed his legs and then, as if he had sat on a cactus, leaped to his feet, stepped up onto the altar, found a candle, lit it and eased onto the floor with the students.
This was very baffling to the Nebraskans. Was the parson suggesting they do the same? Many of them had not been that close to the floor since the last time they fell and couldn’t get up. So they chose to sit quietly and see where the odd escapade would head.
After a few moments, the youngsters stopped their singing. When they did, Meningsbee took the opportunity to do a little singing himself.
“Michael row the boat ashore, alleluia…”
Meningsbee glanced at the congregation, encouraging them with his eyes to sing along. Some did.
The students listened through one or two passages, and then joined in to the best of their ability. When the song was done there was a moment of silence. Meningsbee spoke.
“It is very important for all of us to return to the last place we sensed something good. Although our questions will never be answered in full, we should remain full of questions. I want to thank you for coming today and giving us the soul of our service. It was Jesus who said that we are the light of the world. You have brought light into our presence. It was David who told us to sing a new song. You have brought us a new song. And it is every intelligent teacher and prophet throughout history who tells us to challenge ourselves. You have sat here, humbly offering your gratitude and expressing your desires. We welcome you. You have made our church today. You are our church today. We thank you. And we want you to know that you’re welcome here anytime–to bring anything you feel–to help us understand the depth of your soul and what’s important to you.”
One of the young men from the circle of visitors spoke up.
“We didn’t mean to interrupt. We thought you would just go ahead and have your service.”
Meningsbee replied, “You see, son, that’s the mistake we make in the church. We think you’re supposed to come in here, learn about what we do, follow the routine and develop a taste for it. That’s not really what church was meant to be. Church is the people coming, expressing what they need, and letting the opportunity of being with God supply it. Don’t ever forget that. And when you come back here again, it’ll be the same way. We don’t exactly have an order of service. We let the service that needs to be provided grant us order.”
The unbroken circle of young folks nodded in approval. The congregation smiled as some cried.
If church was supposed to be a series of beautiful moments of human interaction and revelation, then Garsonville was slowly on its way to becoming a church.