I was listening to NPR this morning, for a few frenzied minutes, and heard a story about the Mosque in NJ from whence came some of the terrorists who were planning to do irrevicobale harm to Fort Dix. I haven't followed the story much, other than the initial splash, but this morning someone or other was interviewing the Immam of this mosque and asking him about attendance and mood and so forth, and how things have been since these guys were scooped up. The Cleric/Immam (what are they called here in the US?) said that attendance had steeply fallen off, people are just too afraid to show up for fear they are being watched.
Politics (and religion) aside, my pastoral beating heart went out to this poor man. As I listened to him talk (we hope, he said, that once the summer is over, people will come back) I saw all these last 5 years of Sundays in a long stream, run together, me standing either in the choir loft, or in the narthex, or even sometimes sitting in my place on the altar, counting and counting, over and over, the people in the church.
This is not pure obsession.
In the first place, Matt likes an independant count from the ushers because sometimes whoever is scheduled doesn't remember the nursery, or the choir, or themselves. So I do my own count so Matt can verify after.
And second, I can't count just once myself because I really can't count. If I count five times, I will come up with a different number every time. Sad, but true. I'm terrible with numbers. Even when I use the little clicker thing, I get different numbers each time. So usually Matt takes my five numbers and compares it with the usher count and draws his own conclusions-because at least I count everybody, even if its more than once.
But really, at it's base point, I count because I really want the church to be full. I want the pews filled up. I want people to come, to church. The more people the better. And if, because of some awful catastrophe, 2/3 of the congregation stayed home because they were afraid, I would personally (even though I know its not about me personally) be devestated. Matt likes to pretend that he wouldn't be concerned if everyone didn't show up, he's just in it to glorify God. And I believe him, I really really really do believe him.
This fire in my belly for a full church has given me the stamina to sit through 2 years of meetings (and one year of providing minutes) preparing for the upcoming Franklin Graham Festival next week. Thinking over it the last few days I feel satisfied that I have done absolutely everything I can do to be fully involved in this process/event and have pulled as many people along with me as I can. As a result of it, I'm starting a new 'discipleship' class to teach individuals to walk beside and care for, spiritually, new Christians. The only way the church fills up is if people find Jesus and then stick to him, rather than finding him and then wandering off into the wilderness.
Which is why, after today, I feel like my obsessive counting is not such a bad thing. Our parish readings for this morning included Luke's account of the Found Sheep and the Found Coin.
What man, if having 99 sheep, finding that one sheep has wandered off, does not leave the 99 and go find the one, and when finding it, carries it home on his sholders, rejoicing? What man? Not Jesus. Not me. If someone is missing, I have to get all obsessive and start calling and checking up.
But the Found Sheep follows on the heels of the Cost of Discipleship. Those 100 sheep, in the pen, who belong to Jesus, those sheep are totally committed. They have left everything, forsaken everything, for the sake of the Gospel, the cross. They have counted the cost. And that's why there are really only 100, with thousands walking by outside, not coming in, not even being curious.
Which is why I head into this coming week, this enormous Event, on the one hand Fully Expecting the whole world to show up and want to believe in Jesus, and many of them afterwards to come to Good Shepherd, AND Also, am expecting that only a few people will come and having once heard, decide that the cost is too great, and go away.
But for the few or many who do come, and do stick, and do want to lay it all down and take up the cross, for them, I will be hanging over the rail of the choir loft counting, and counting, and counting.