Tonight at the very end of church, Mark Labberton followed up a sermon on unity in Christ by asking the congregation to hold hands with their neighbors. Oh, we were so close, I thought. Next to me, Christine looked out of the choir loft at her friend Brooke, a visitor, and mouthed, "Sorry!" We grabbed hands and prayed, and afterwards, we confirmed: the Universal Law of Church Visitors had struck again.
You do know the Universal Law, right? I have yet to find it in the Bible (probably buried somewhere in the Minor Prophets, or maybe Leviticus, sandwiched into the kooky wandering-in-the desert laws), but I swear it's there somewhere, and someday I'm going to find it. The Universal Law of Church Visitors states that in the presence of a non-regular attender, church will get weird. The pastor will spontaneously preach on homosexuality or tithing, or will be absent entirely. He or she will be replaced by a drama troupe, missionaries either to or from Africa specializing in sign-language ministries, liturgical dancers in leotards, and/or a church business meeting. It will be Youth Sunday, and (I'm sorry to say) none of the musicians will actually know how to play their instruments. All of the music will be in Portuguese and accompanied only by an accordion and a rhythm gourd. There will be random hand-holding, possibly while singing or chanting. On Christine's first Sunday at First Pres, a man in the front row occasionally took a bite from a bouquet of daisies he held behind his back. Bringing a friend to church is a risky venture.
Maybe the Universal Law should be the least of our worries. Maybe it's some kind of secret vetting process: virgin birth and empty tombs don't go over so well with those who can't hack Sandi Patti and baton-twirling during the offertory. And, to be fair, maybe it's just getting them ready for life in a church community, letting them know that sometimes, church is full of things that are weird or unintentionally funny, because people are weird and unintentionally funny. Church is a place of earnestness, and sometimes earnestness is uncool. Probably best to get it all out in the open. Maybe God's just trying to keep things on the up and up, which is why things always get just a little unusual when you're wishing for the usuality you love so much.
And, frankly, it's probably more an issue of social oversensitivity than anything else. Church gets mocked enough as it is; we can't always help the assumption that newcomers are horrified when things deviate from the schedule. We seem to apologize a lot, even for things that don't bother us. Maybe we should stop that, and trust people's resilience in the face of things that make us cringe, or even the power of God to work through/despite our strangest efforts. I know that. I should try to keep that in mind. And if only the Song of Solomon laser show would tone things down just a little, we might be able to relax.