Holidays bring extra work to church. An additional service or two is usually added to accommodate the increase in numbers and varying schedule demands. The behind-the-scenes preparation ramps up and there seems to be more of everything; more volunteers, more seats - and more clean-up.
Busy Sundays also lead to an increase in found items - scarves, gloves, pacifiers, travel mugs, a lonely earring or two. It's all to be expected and we take it in stride. The items are placed in the lost and found box and are promptly forgotten by the rest of us.
Until this Christmas. As the staff members and church regulars were making the rounds and tidying up, someone came across a heap of small, empty, liquor bottles, unceremoniously dropped in the stairwell. I don't mind saying this unusual find created a little bit of a buzz. Now, they're no Disney, but I think our church does a good job with trashcan placement. Even on a busy Sunday, when there's a sea of bodies in the hall and cafe, you can easily find a trash receptacle in any direction you turn.
Why the stairwell? The busy stairwell that is the only easy path back down to the front door and is used by most of the people who sit in the balcony. It's not a hidden, private, out-of-the way spot you'd choose for a moment of solitude.
So, to whomever left the bottles behind, the following letter is to you.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I'm glad you came to our church this past Christmas. I don't know who you are. I don't know why you came. I don't know why you needed those little bottles for that hour and a half.
I hope people were nice to you. I hope they looked you in the eye, smiled, and shook your hand. I hope you found the atmosphere welcoming and hospitable.
I really hope you liked the coffee.
Maybe you were making a statement when you left the bottles in the stairwell. Maybe you were suddenly desperate to get the bottles off your person and left them in the first place you could. Maybe they were full when you arrived, dumped into the previously mentioned coffee, and you needed a private place to discard them. Maybe.
Maybe it was something else? Maybe the sermon and touched something in you and those empty bottles suddenly felt heavier empty than when full. Maybe there was a glimpse of hope, a wake up call, a moment of clarity. Maybe it was the start of something new. Maybe.
I'll probably never know who you are and the answer to these questions, but I wanted to say thank you anyway. I've thought about those little bottles a few times since that day and no matter what the situation was for you, they've become a symbol to me. I don't carry little liquor bottles around in my pocket, but I do carry other things; disappointment, anxiety, a little bit of heartbreak, distraction, false bravado, people pleasing, and the need to control. I'm grateful for the reminder, the visual representation, of leaving the refuse behind; all of those things that tell lies, promise quick fixes, and give me a buffer between myself and the world. I hope I can be as wise as you and leave those things behind each Sunday, instead of keeping them tucked in my pockets they way I usually do. I'm pretty good about picking up things at church, but leaving things behind is harder for me. More visible and vulnerable.
I hope you come visit us again. We're not perfect people, more like broken people who are on the way to something better. There are many here who would hold out their hands to your bottles and accept them, unflinchingly, with grace and understanding.
You belong here.
You belong here.