We walk through the open door and I can’t help but think how much I love this place. We’ve been searching so long for community like this. People who truly care for us. Who care for everyone who walks through that door.
We leave the door open during worship. It’s purposeful. What does it say about a church who closes its doors? We say all are welcome, and we leave the doors open to show we mean what we say.
As I take a minute to look around, I notice who’s in attendance. Lots of people we know. A few I’ve never met, but I recognize. But wait a second … who’s that guy sitting on the couch in the back? He looks disheveled. And he’s mumbling to himself.
I smile and say hello and then walk the other way. Baby girl and I usually worship on the couch, but she’s a little crabby tonight, so I think we’ll stand alone in the back instead. I am not in the mood to make new friends. Especially ones that look like that. I’ll be polite, but I’m not going out of my way. Maybe some other time.
We sing a few songs, say a psalm and the confession, and then it’s time to pray. Like we’ve done for the past several weeks, we’re invited to form groups of 3 or 4 and pray for one another. Here’s my chance. I should really get over myself and pray with him. After all, all are welcome in this place, right?
Would you like to pray together? I ask. He doesn’t understand, so I ask in a different way: Could I pray for you? He nods and mumbles something I don’t understand. I sit down and introduce myself.
I’m Joe, he says. Hi Joe, it’s nice to meet you. I’m glad you’re here tonight. What’s going on in your life that I can pray for?
His answer socked me in the gut. For food in my belly. And a safe place to stay.
Seriously, God? I’ve had the longest day ever. I’m wearing a crabby baby that won’t fall asleep. I can think of a hundred things to complain about right now. And then you go and put this homeless guy in my path who wants me to pray for food in his belly. Way to put things into perspective.
Joe continues to mumble about things going on in his life. I only understand every fourth word or so, but it doesn’t matter. I know this is a man that’s hurting. A man who has no place to call home. And a man that God has brought here, tonight, for a reason. So I gently place my hand on his knee and say, Joe – please let me pray for you.
We finish up our prayers. Our group has grown bigger now – and as we talk about other prayer requests I can’t help but think how blessed we are. We may be exhausted from long weeks and hot temperatures, but our prayers seem so small compared to the prayer I just prayed for Joe.
When we pass the peace, I invite him to the table for donuts and fruit. It’s not gourmet, but it’s something. He tells me that he had half a donut, but wanted to save some for others. I tell him it’s okay – please take all he wants – that’s what it’s there for! He gets another cup of coffee and sits back down on the couch.
When it’s time for Holy Communion, I gently walk over to Joe and invite him up. We’re going to pray together? he asks. I try to explain it’s Holy Communion – the bread and wine – and that all are welcome to partake. He jumps out of his seat and walks up to the front. Falls to his knees.
He sobs on the couch as worship ends. Praising God for being merciful. For loving him. He continues to mumble, but it’s different than before. I wonder if he’s ever been invited to the table before tonight.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever see Joe again. I don’t know if he’ll ever come back through those open doors. But I know the two hours I spent in worship with him changed my life. And I pray it changed his too.
House of the Rock is a different kind of church, striving to be the change, be the gospel. This is just one story of how House of the Rock is changing lives in midtown Atlanta.