The brass band was nice and the singing was good. Similarly, the fir tree outside the front door sparkled with lights and candles illuminated each window, their shadows dancing over the crowd gathered outside. But I have to confess that what really sold me were the incredible mince pies. For when it appeared that the annual community caroling event would be cancelled this year in the small English village, the Methodist Church there determined to step up and sponsor the seasonal sing-a-long instead.
Only they didn’t just hand out song sheets to whoever happened to come along– they opened up their congregational home and their hearts as well. And as dozens of villagers, both young and old, filed into the old sanctuary after the singing, the Methodists made them feel welcome indeed, with smiles, tea, coffee, home-made treats and no less than seventy–the number was proudly announced–jelly-filled doughnuts, which always taste better at church than anywhere else, of course.
Most of the folks who came were not members, to be sure. And some of them perhaps had never stepped foot into the old chapel, other than perhaps for a wedding or funeral. On a cold Friday night in West Yorkshire, however, people actually waited in line to get into the small but lovely sanctuary, leading the pastor to observe that there had not been so many folks in that building in a very long time indeed.
But perhaps it was because church was actually fun tonight, with no one worried about spilling coffee or jam on the carpet, or leaving crumbs in the pews, or kids running without restraint down the center aisle, or even the propane tanks propped up next to the altar because the heating was not quite working otherwise.
Likewise, tonight the distinction that we church folks sometimes seem to draw between ourselves and those outside of our congregations seemed to fade away into the clear night sky above us as we sang. For even the most skeptical of singers could not help but smile a little as they remembered the words from their childhoods.
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”
“Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay, close by me forever and love me, I pray…”
“No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
Tonight at a Methodist Church in West Yorkshire Jesus not only entered in, but a whole host of others slipped in as well, drawn not by any elaborate program or star-studded event, but simply by a small congregation which decided that the good news actually is for sharing and sometimes all you have to do is show folks that they really are welcome.
After all, who would ever bother to make such delicious mince pies for just strangers?