I stand in the empty sanctuary and picture the summer that was. Children were welcomed in baptism. Young couples were united in marriage. Old friends were laid to their last rest. The room rocked to the sounds of VBS songs, and choir camp songs, and worship songs. Mission trips were commissioned and sent out, and celebrated upon their return. Friends went on vacation, and returned with pictures of their adventures with Flat JJ. And all of the things that happened in here, in this room, were only the central expression of a congregation that tended gardens and went camping and served the needy and created pillowcase dresses and collected food and clothes and honored emergency personnel and shared food and fellowship and fun and did SO many other things in SO many places, inside and out. It was glorious! It was our “slow time.” I grin to myself as I think how ridiculous that sounds.
There’s an old Navy expression from the days of wooden ships and cannons that’s used commonly: “clear the deck.” Get all of the unnecessary stuff out of the way; tie it down or remove it so that it’s not rolling around in here, so that we don’t trip over it or get caught up in it while we’re doing the important work, fighting the next battle, focusing our attention and energy. That’s kind of why I’m in the sanctuary; in the course of Sunday morning, I tend to leave a folder here and a water bottle there, some bulletins here and a few peppermint wheels there, a Bible here and… you get the picture. I want to “clear the deck” during this quiet time, make sure that all of my stuff is out of the way before the next service, the next adventure, the next time that this place is filled with life and energy. I don’t want to trip over it! And I especially don’t want anybody else to, either.
I think, too, about all the times this summer that we “cleared the deck”: setting up for all of the things that we did, tearing down afterwards so that we could move on to the next thing, clearing the deck again and again for the work to be done and the food to be served and the songs to be sung and the lives to be blessed and mourned and renewed, again and again and again. We tend to move quickly around here, even during “slow time.” We always have something that’s coming up next. We need to clear the deck.
I stand in the empty sanctuary and picture the fall that will be, very soon. Our education programs will be back in full swing. Our music programs will be, too. Our outreach and service will be even greater. Our worship times together will be incredible. It won’t be “slow time,” in any sense. There will be so many things to set up, so much to prepare for, over and over again. I will need to keep the deck cleared, and so will we all.
But as I stand here, ready to clear the deck, I appreciate this moment so much: the quiet, the warmth, the beauty, the sanctuary. It is not full now, though it will be. It is not noisy now, though it will be. I am here alone now, though I won’t be for long. I take a deep breath and treasure the feel of this space, knowing that it will feel differently soon. And that the feeling, the noise, the spirit, the buzz, the fall that is to come will be GREAT! First, though
… I breathe deeply. I let the quiet surround me and soak into me. I feel the sunlight through the stained glass. I smell the wood and the years. I breathe deeply. I take and treasure this moment.
Fall is practically here. Take your moments. Clear your decks. And get ready for all the fun and the work and the ministry (and the mayhem?!) to begin.