Tomorrow (Wednesday) at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06. It will never happen again. The moment I’m waiting for is twelve minutes and twelve seconds after either noon or midnight on December 12 (my birthday) in 2012: 12:12:12 12/12/12.
This afternoon, I drove over the river and through the woods to get to Norton, Massachusetts, a town closer to Providence, Rhode Island than it is to Boston, to have my picture taken. Our church in Marshfield is taking pictures for a new church directory, but the picture taking times are during my burger flipping times, so Ginger chased down another church where Olan Mills was taking pictures and we drove over there to have our own unrepeatable moment captured for the book.
I’ve never been to Norton before. I didn’t even know where Norton was until about ten thirty this morning. As I drove in, I thought the same thought that crosses my mind any time I go into a new town: here’s a whole town of people who live meaningful and fulfilling lives without knowing me. There are counties, states, even whole countries where no one has ever said, “Man, I miss Milton,” or “I wish Milton was here,” or even “I wonder what Milton is up to these days.” And if they do talk about Milton, they aren’t talking about me.
Ginger got to the church before me, so she was standing in the foyer when I walked in. There were three or four other folks including the woman who was coordinating the appointments. She was a member of the church and, we found out later, one of the deacons. She was charming and funny and the perfect person to be keeping track of things. Ginger and I were the only two people there who were not church members or residents of Norton. I had fun listening to them talk about what was going on in their church and in their town. What was a town to stop in for a picture for me was home to them. Ginger and I both walked around to looked at billboards and see what kinds of brochures were on the tables. We caught a snapshot – an unrepeatable moment in their lives, but not the whole story.
I got my picture taken and drove out of town. No one noticed, other than my wife. I followed Route 123 (which I was driving on at 4:56) through Easton, Brockton, Abington, and Norwell, to get to Hanover for staff meeting. Don, Chad and I meet at our local Panera every Tuesday night. Now here’s a place where they know me. I’ve been in at least once a week almost every week since they opened. Since they always ask for your name when they take your order, most of the servers know mine. Mary always says hello when I walk in and then never charges me for my coffee. Andrea was behind the register tonight. When she said hello, I said, “What’s new?”
“We’ve got fresh chocolate chip cookies for you to sample,” she said and promptly went and got me one. Those folks in Norton have no idea who was in their town today, but if they ever come by Panera in Hanover, they’ll find out I’m huge here!
Don was late and Chad and I talked our way around the world – literally. He got to telling me about being in a small town in Germany one Easter. The tradition in the town was for the three congregations to each hold services at 11:00 pm on Saturday and then at midnight they all filed out of their respective churches holding torches, crisscrossed in the town square, and then entered each other’s buildings and held services in sanctuaries that were not their own. He said they did not speak as they shuffled past each other; they just moved from one church to another. It made me wonder how the tradition came to be. What was the explanation for the first time they did it? What words were said then that are now lost in the silent shuffle? What did it mean to them to carry lights and carry on in each other’s houses of worship? For Chad, not knowing what was going on, it was like being an extra in a George Romero movie. We both wished we could hear the story behind the shuffle.
Our Youth Ministry Team met tonight at Hanover, as is our custom on the first Tuesday of the month. This time we were joined by some of the folks from Pilgrim Church in Duxbury who are going with us, along with Ginger’s church, on a mission trip to Jackson, Mississippi in June. We are all in the process of raising money to get to Jackson, but one of the folks from Pilgrim has set her heart and mind on raising money to take to Jackson. She set a goal to raise $50,000 to take with us and the way she decided to do it is through a raffle. She started asking church members to donate prizes and ended up with everything form Red Sox tickets to tickets to fly anywhere Southwest flies, as well as about sixty other things. Our folks loved her heart and struggled with raffles not being a part of our church life. Then the woman started talking about what the money would be used for. Jackson was one of the places where people went after Katrina left them homeless and townless. Calvary Baptist Church was one of the places that gave people shelter and food. They also spent a lot of money helping people get on their feet. Their giving was more than tossing a couple of bucks in the plate; they sacrificed. Their church was also damaged and still needs to be repaired. The church is also working to help rebuild one of the towns in coastal Mississippi. Underneath all of that, it is a church that did not fly to the suburbs when the neighborhood “changed” but made a commitment to stay and minister.
When she finished talking, all of us around the table were a little teary. Someone said, “We have to tell that story. If people know the story, they won’t worry about whether or not it’s a raffle.” Until they hear the story, however, Jackson is just a name in a Johnny Cash song, just another town where no one knows them and they know no one. We all left the meeting ready to tell the story.
I hope it’s a moment we repeat over and over again.