“We’re just going to find our daughter.”
And those were the words that stalled a church yesterday morning. Words that shocked the system and stretched the muscle of your heart. And the church braced for the coming storm.
The circumstances, at the time, seemed very grave. One of our college students was missing, and out of contact with her parents and her friends, last seen at a concert this weekend.
When the news began to move through the hallways of our church building, people stopped and stared at each other with puzzled looks. What could only be the appropriate response was the direction our leadership took. The entire planned service was changed in an instant, and the morning would be spent in deep prayer. Such a simple thing, but such a necessary response.
I was the first to offer a prayer, followed in time by all of our leaders. And from the first prayer to the last, the tone changed to much more serious pleas. My prayer was that our concerns and tears would prove unnecessary. The last prayer offered was praise for her ultimate victory of heaven if she happened to not have survived the night. All of our minds willingly followed that route, and wondered what life would be like if such a tragedy would occur.
Before I prayed, though, in the moments our minister announced to the church the circumstances, I felt a settling — something warm and controlled rested over the pews and the people, and it was something I have never experienced in a church before. I am uncertain of it, even now, so much so that as I write, I wonder if I was the only one that felt something that seemed so powerful.
But it was very forceful, a sure sign that at once, the entire church, and all in the assembly, would engage in something that may change the fabric of our church family. Everyone believed the same thing, everyone felt the same emotions at the same time. And everyone accepted a morning of convicted prayer with genuineness.
Churches resonate with differing opinions. And they resonate with differing emotions and agendas. Small groups, in any church, invariably visit the topics and themes of controversy and change, and do so at regular intervals. But never, in my fifteen years of ministry, have I ever experienced something quite like what happened yesterday. All agendas and complaints and emotions were cast aside, more than put aside, and five hundred people, children and students and grandparents and parents, believed, at once, that the true, defining moment of a church is not found in controversy and differing opinions, but in need and tragedy.
Yesterday morning proved that a true church is the model of a family at its best. The response taken would be taken again tomorrow, and again the next day, for anyone in such dire need. I am blessed to know that where I worship, and where I work, is indeed such a very special place.
Our college student was found, missing only due to a minor misunderstanding, and all of our fears were put to rest. But had it ended in a different way, I know that this group of people, connected by common beliefs and uncommon circumstances, would continue such a response. I have no doubt we would.