In the late 1950’s my father was the minister of a church on the west side of Chicago. The church was (and still is as shown in the photo above) an old urban building, a survivor of a fire that had incinerated the sanctuary shortly before my father assumed the pulpit, leaving the congregation to convert the part of the church that hadn’t been burned – a kind of 3 story brownstone community hall with a flat roof – into the new worship center. We lived a short walk from the church and most days my father liked to get there before anyone else was around for the quiet, undisturbed time those mornings regularly brought. But sometimes he would get unexpected visitors.
Unexpected visitors to a church are like Forest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. The possibilities range from the homeless, to the bereaved, to the mentally ill, to a couple wanting to get married. Or all four at once. Anyone with spiritual, psychological or physical needs is a likely candidate. Since this comprises a significant portion of the world’s inhabitants the well seasoned clergy is unsurprised by anything short of a giraffe.
One balmy spring morning, as my father was settling into his pastoral office, he was interrupted by a ring at the door. There he was met by two rugged looking men dressed in worker’s clothes, hard-hats respectfully in hand. They wore the sheepish expressions of two boys who had just crashed a baseball through a kitchen window and were coming to retrieve it.
Following some awkward introductions the foreman explained the situation: his crew had been moving a wrecking crane across town only to discover, upon arrival, that the wrecking ball from the crane was missing. They were certain it had been on the crane when it had departed the previous site and, once they had made several trips back and forth, they had come to the conclusion that the ball must have landed on one of the roofs of the buildings along the way. After checking virtually every other roof on the route they had come to suspect that the wrecking ball was on the roof of the church.
My father volunteered to escort the men to the top floor of the church. As they mounted the final flight of stairs they began to see plaster dust, getting thicker as they climbed. “Yep. It’s here,” mumbled the foreman, and the next thing my father knew there was a crane parked next to the church and a team of workers on the roof re-attaching the ball. Another team of plasterers swept in to repair the ceiling crack that ran the length of the building. It was all cured and painted before the next Sunday’s service.
“Into each life a little rain must fall,” sang The Inkspots. But rain isn’t the half of it. We have all had a wrecking ball of one sort or another fall unexpectedly into our lives. We share this in common with each other. Especially now, as a little ball spiked with a bunch of tiny mushrooms is wreaking havoc around the world. Covid is indifferent to tribe, skin color, temperament, religion, or political persuasion. It falls upon princes and paupers alike; in urban as well as rural settings. It has touched us all even as it has made it harder for us to touch each other. But beyond our individual isolation lies a common purpose ready to unite us when we are ready to be united. What I learned at the Jackson Boulevard Christian Church sixty-some years ago is this: when things get wrecked you put on your worker’s clothes and get to it.