Being church: wisdom from a nonagenarian

heart in hand

“About love,” Mary told me when I asked her what I should teach the children at our church, Ecclesia Baptist. Then she added, “Don’t just teach them, show them!” She pointed and nodded, emphasizing each phrase.

“What’s the best way to do that?” I asked her.

She didn’t even think about it a second. “Let them know you are there for them,” she said. “Be there when they need you.”

We were sitting outside that day, and while a storm would settle in later, at that moment it was still. Mary, now in her ninth decade, does not find breezes nearly as pleasant as she might have in younger years. Her white cardigan, unbuttoned, offered enough additional warmth to shield her from any errant wind that might turn in our direction. We had both slipped off our masks when no one was looking (both of us fully vaccinated and all), so it felt for all the world like we were visiting on her own porch or patio.

She had more to say.

“Be sure they know they are hearing the right thing,” she nodded. “That’s what I mean by don’t just teach them, show them. Do it and let them see it.” She looked off in the distance and gestured towards the horizon, smiling, “Look a there at those mountains!”

“Beautiful,” I said, as I looked at her outstretched arm, her hand worn from years of not-just-teaching-but-showing.

“You’ve got to take what you’ve learned and pass it on,” she picked up where she’d trailed off. “Pass it on. That’s what you’ve got to do. Pass. It. On.” She meant that thing.

“So teach the children about God’s love,” I said, “But live the message, don’t just talk about it, right?” I knew our time was getting short. I usually get about 30 minutes before she tells me in the most polite way she can that it’s time for me to get out of there.

“Well, yes, but you’ve got to be ready for them. One way they know that you are there for them is that you prepare for them. They’ll ask you some hard questions and you’ve got to be ready for them. You’ve got to prepare!”

An aside: I do try not to keep peeves for pets, I really do. But if you slide a soapbox up under me labeled, “Teachers who do not prepare for Sunday school,” I have been known to be up there a while. So when she said that last bit, I had to restrain my inner-Pentecostal. I was just short of hand-raisin’ and hallelujahs.

“And that’s really just about all there is to it.” She held her hands palms up and and then dropped them back in her lap. “Now you’re gonna have to excuse me, because I have got things I need to get done.”We said the Lord’s Prayer together as we always do before I leave, I gave her a hug and told her I would see her in a week or so; then we slipped our masks back in place before I called the attendant to walk her back inside. “I love you Mary,” I said as I told her goodbye.

“And I love YOU!” she said, patting my hand.

It occurred to me when I was back in my car, re-reading my notes from our conversation, Mary had just summed up the key components of a healthy community.

  • Center everything on Love. Mary always answers “God’s love” when I ask her what she taught kids in church. She’ll say, “That’s what it’s all about.” And she’s right.
  • Be there for each other. Not just for the children, either. As a community of faith, we are called to be here for each other, to journey together through the misery, the miraculous, and even the mundane.
  • Walk the walk. Embody God’s love in our words; certainly start there. But don’t stop there. Love by mowing grass, celebrating milestones, sending notes, giving hugs, and being present. Love in all and through all.
  • Be intentional. Consider what your role is in the community and take it seriously. Don’t leave it to chance.
And that, according to Mary (and also every book ever written on godly community) is really just about all there is to it.

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.