I told the folks working on the remodel project where I had been going to Church when I was in town over the weekend. I invited them to join me on Sunday morning and assured them they would enjoy it; several raised an eyebrow. I said that after the Service I would take everyone to the new Chinese buffet for lunch. I encouraged them to all arrive early to listen to her play the piano or organ, whichever instrument she would prefer that morning, and to hear her sing.
We gathered in front of the small Church about 20 minutes early. Having some experience here, I had them wait out front with me for the cue that would invite us to enter the Sanctuary. We waited awhile, but the music didn’t start as it normally did; I was perplexed. I had been telling the group standing with me about it and it wasn’t happening. It occurred to me that perhaps she was sick today. After a bit, we entered the Sanctuary and settled on the back two rows.
After a bit, an older Deacon came out and took a seat on the side bench and began to sing Amazing Grace. He did a fine job . . . the call to worship was being declared. Soon, the choir filed out and joined in singing and everything began to take shape. At the conclusion of the song, the Pastor stepped to the pulpit and said, “Well, it is clear that we are doing things a bit differently this morning, and I want to ask the piano player to stand and address the congregation,” and he took his seat. I looked up front and there she was on the front row, looking up toward the choir. I had not seen her enter.
Slowly, she stood, walked a few steps forward, turned to face the congregation, took a moment to collect her thoughts, cleared her voice, and slowly began to speak. As I recall she said something about like this, “I want to apologize to the congregation for my behavior in the service Sunday morning past, and ask your forgiveness. I know you all don’t understand all of the work and planning that is involved in our music program, but I work really hard to make it special. When I am at the instrument playing and singing, I just get in the Spirit, close my eyes, and forget about everything else going on around me. I know that I should not have done it, but when that woman walked up here and unplugged that organ in the middle of my song, I got out of the spirit and into the flesh and I was on her before I knew what I was doing . . .”
I felt the breath go out of me . . . I could not believe what I was hearing. I had two rows filled with visitors with me and instantly thought these folks should not be present and see a Church have to deal with something like this . . . I started to motion to my group that we should leave, but the thought occurred to me that it might make matters worse, so I just sat and watched it play out.
When she finished, she returned to her seat. The Pastor walked back to the pulpit and slowly placed his hands on each side. I knew this was a difficult experience for him–his Church had conflict, division, and turmoil. It was clear that the Church was in dangerous waters . . .
As he stood there, he slowly surveyed the congregation and I wondered what was going on in his mind and heart. I ached for him. What a mess . . . I wondered if it could ever be as sweet and special as it had been before . . . I suspected that something special had been lost.
He slowly began to speak. He said, “Church, you have heard the Sister’s report. What is your pleasure? Shall we accept her apology, extend forgiveness to her, and restore her to her former position as Music Minister, or not?”
You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife. After a few seconds–but it seemed like an hour to me–a gentleman raised his hand to be recognized. He stood and reverently said, “I move that the Sister’s apology be accepted, forgiveness be extended, and she be restored to her former position as Music Director.” The motion was seconded and quickly put to a vote. There was overwhelming support for the motion.
The Pastor then said, “The motion passes and the Sister may take her place at the piano.” She promptly walked to the instrument, took her seat and began to play. In a moment she broke out in song and was joined by the choir. Just beautiful . . . suddenly everything was back to normal and a sense of joy filled the room. It was a terrific music service.
As the music ended, the Pastor took his place at the pulpit to deliver his morning message. Just as he began, an older, white haired lady stood up and said, “Brother Pastor, I need to address the congregation . . .” The Pastor, said, “It is good that you stood, I have been waiting to hear from you, Sister T…”. The Pastor took his seat, yielding the floor to Sister T.
Sister T did not walk to the front of the Sanctuary and face the congregation, she simply spoke from where she stood in the third row. She, quite sheepishly, said, “I need to ask the Church for forgiveness for my behavior in service last week. I know what I did was wrong, but like the other sister said, ‘I got out of the Spirit and into the flesh’ and before I knew what I was doing I had walked to the front of the Church and unplugged the organ. That was when that woman attacked me! The music was loud and I have been asking them to turn down the volume for a year. I am an old lady and can’t stand loud music.” Sister T took her seat.
The Pastor returned to the pulpit and said, “Church, you have heard the Sister’s report. What is your pleasure? Shall we accept her apology, extend forgiveness to her, and restore her to her former position as the Financial Secretary, or not?”
Again, there was tension. After another pause, the same man once again stood and said that he moved that the Church accept the apology and extend forgiveness. The motion was seconded and soon passed, but without nearly as much support as had been the case with the Music Director. It was clear how folks had viewed the incident.
The pastor announced the motion passed and the Financial Secretary was reinstated to her former position. He stood there silently for a few moments and made eye contact with every person in the room. He then said the most remarkable thing. He said, “Church, this thing is over, it is done with, and it is not to be spoken of again. It is finished!” There was a wave of Amens and then he began his message on “Love Ye one Another . . .”
It was a great sermon. At the conclusion of the Service, I introduced my friends around and we headed to the Chinese buffet for lunch. Surprisingly, no one was too interested in discussing what we had seen. They just talked about how great the music had been and what a good message the Pastor had delivered.
I spent some time that afternoon thinking about what I had seen and how it had all been handled. I was really impressed. I would be more impressed the next day . . .
Mid afternoon, Monday, I went to the local supermarket to fill a cooler with ice and drinks for the crew. One of the ladies from the Church was working as a checker at the checkout station. I negotiated my way to her lane. She greeted me with a smile. As she checked me out, I gently commented about the events in Church yesterday morning and politely asked, “What happened?” She looked me in the eye and said, “The Pastor, said that was over and was not to be spoke of again . . . ” I paid the bill and left. I was even more impressed.
I had viewed pretty much a perfect model of Church discipline . . . that is a rare thing, indeed.