Twenty-three years ago, when I was in my first pastoral appointment, there was an 11-year-old boy who started coming to my church at the suggestion of a teacher at his middle school. He was an isolated, disconsolate figure who didn’t mix easily and took a greedy share of the cookies after worship. After he had been coming a few months, funds were found for him to participate in a parish weekend retreat.
By Saturday morning, the complaints were raining down. He was rude. He was grabbing food. He was bullying the younger children. The adults finally had to talk to each other about it; it was one of those parish conversations where the pastor doesn’t get a casting vote. The teacher through whose influence the boy had first come to church pointed out that, being brought up solely by his young and temperamental father, he was a troubled boy looking for security. Allowances were made, patience was maintained, and gradually the lad began to find his feet.
Nine months later at a special evening service he was baptized. His father was not there. His mother and brother, living across town, weren’t there either. But about 40 people were, and each member of the congregation was invited to describe what they most valued about being members of that church. One said friendship, another said acceptance, a third said trust. When the boy was asked the same question his narrow, fixed frown broke, for once, into a smile, and he replied, “You didn’t throw me out after that weekend.”