“I’m going to move over here by Ruby so she can hear me,” Edna said as she stood, stepping over so her voice would project directly into her friend’s ear.
“How’s this?” she asked. “Can you hear me OK, Ruby?”
Ms. Ruby noticed us watching her and piped up, “Beg your pardon?”
I was attending the monthly meeting of a Woman’s Missionary Union roundtable at my church, and Ms. Edna was sharing the prayer calendar which included a brief devotion. These particular women have been meeting together for longer than anyone can remember. They share prayer concerns, pray for missionaries, take on mission projects, enjoy snacks provided by the hostess of the month, and just spend time together. I’d guess their average age is upwards of 80.
As I basked in their traditions, I was taken back to my days in Girls in Action (the children’s version of WMU). The ladies spoke of Lottie Moon, and immediately I pictured the diminutive missionary who changed the face of Baptist international missions. I recalled also the women who taught me about Lottie Moon and other missionaries. I saw their smiling faces as they welcomed me into a community of belonging.
They were some of the same ones who greeted me at GAs on Wednesdays, taught my Sunday school class, led crafts at Vacation Bible School, or bandaged my scrapes at church camp. They, and others who came after them, taught me that church is a place where children are loved and friendships are made. They taught me other stuff too, of course. I learned about Adam, Noah and Abraham; Paul, John and Peter. I learned about the widow who offered Elisha a home and the one who offered Jesus her all.
Those lessons grew with me, as I read and re-read familiar stories, gaining deeper understanding over time. I’m grateful — so grateful — for the hours those volunteers put in with me and my peers. People like Elaine Hill, Marilyn Thompson, Eva Spear, and Vi Keeter gave me a picture of godliness that I readily recognize in others today.
It’s that kind of godliness I saw around that table of women last week. Like the saints in my own history, these women will be quick to tell you they’re just “sinners saved by grace.” Indeed, they — we — are human beings who trespass against others even as we fail to forgive those who trespass against us. So yes, they are imperfect; but these women take church seriously. In addition to being at church every time the doors are open, “Lord willing,” they show up around that table, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. For a couple of hours each month they share snacks and stories, recipes and remedies, hopes and hurts. They pray together — for each other and for people they’ve never met — and over time they’ve developed a community of faith that looks a little bit like the Kingdom of God.
What about you? What pictures of the Kingdom have you seen lately?
*This piece was first published on December 14, 2014, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.