Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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When We Read the Signs

It has been three full, challenging, and rewarding weeks since last I wrote on this blog. The next day I started my new job as office manager at Park View Mennonite church. There are many, many details to learn, and I’m learning them as fast as I can, but I still have some ways to go.

 

Our church places a lot of emphasis on welcoming those in our neighborhood. Our congregation is one of several Mennonite churches in Harrisonburg that helped launch the sign project that many of you have seen that read in three languages, “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbors.” Posting these signs has spread far beyond this valley. In fact, when we were living in western Massachusetts, we often saw them there, before we knew their origins.

Our church has “Children’s Club” on Thursday nights to welcome the children from the neighborhood. The hosts make a human train, and go out and invite the children in the neighborhood to walk with them back to the church for food, fun, and fellowship.

I’m discovering that having this welcoming policy does have its challenges. On Monday, a gentleman we didn’t know came to the office door and entered the building around 3 PM. I met him in the hallway and asked if I could help him. He was carrying a big duffel bag, and wearing a bulky coat. He didn’t seem to be able to stand still, but was wiggling about, and his speech was more mumble than words. He said he would like to go to the sanctuary to pray, that he was a friend of someone in the church who had died, and his funeral was at 3PM, and he wanted to pray at this time. He said something about meeting a pastor. I thought he said he was meeting a specific pastor, but he was asking to be accompanied by a pastor. I explained that the pastors have Mondays off. I realized I had no idea how to help this man, so I stuck my head into the conference room where my colleague, Jane, was working and asked her what our policy is about allowing someone to go into the sanctuary to pray when the pastors aren’t here. She invited him to go ahead, but asked that he leave his bag in the hallway. He said his bible was in the bag, and Jane suggested he take his bible out and take it with him, but he seemed reticent to do that.

I got a phone call I’d been waiting for, so I went back to my office. I could tell Jane wasn’t feeling as challenged as I was, so I kept listening in her direction with one ear and I heard everything go quiet, so I breathed more easily. As I got off the phone, the man was gathering up his bag and leaving.

I asked what happened, and Jane said he finally asked if he could sit in the conference room to pray. She said she was working in there, and he asked if that would bother her, and she said no. So he sat at the end of the table and pulled out a bulletin from John Stahl’s funeral. Jane knew he was telling the truth about why he was there. So he sat there quietly for a while, and then he started talking to Jane, thanking her for allowing him to come in. He smiled as he talked, and then he headed out.

The pastors and staff talked about how to handle situations like this, and I felt we came up with a good plan to call on one of the members of the community who live close by to come in and be with us if we feel we need someone else there.

Friday came, and two volunteers usually come in and assemble the bulletins. On this Friday, one of the volunteers, Hannah Lapp, came into the office and she said, “I have this extra copy of the recording of John Stahl’s funeral, and the person I got it for doesn’t need it, so I’m giving it to the church as an extra copy.” I looked at the date 2-17-2018 and realized this man had come on the second anniversary of Stahl’s funeral to pray. I thought what a coincidence it was to get this DVD the same week this man had been there praying for John Stahl. I wished I’d had the DVD to give to him then.

Yesterday morning at church, I happened to be sitting next to Jane when we saw a person walking in at the end of the service. Jane looked at me and whispered, “That’s him.” Pastor Phil had just asked if there was anything else from the congregation. Mics were at hand, and this man reached for one and he began talking about how he had done many things wrong in the past, and how he knows God is watching over him. He mentioned John Stahl again, and he went on for a bit before the person with the mic asked him to give his name. I didn’t catch his name, but he used the opportunity to read a moving testimony he’d written. The whole congregation was silent. In the end he thanked us for listening.

After the service, I headed down the hallway to my office and got the DVD. I brought it back to the foyer just as the gentleman was walking through, and I said, “Someone dropped this off this week, would you like to have it?” With a look of surprise and gratitude, he said that he would. His look of gratitude warmed my heart. It so happened that Hannah Lapp, who had left the DVD was right there, and she said, “I saw what you did. That was good!” I told her I’d thought of him when she’d dropped it off, and thanked her for making his day. (She already knew about the incident because her husband’s name is on the call list.)

Some folks call events that bump into one another like this a coincidence. Some call it a synchronicity. I call it reading the signs that we are on our rightful path. I am taking it that way, and I hope John Stahl’s friend is too.

I am grateful to Jane for finding that balance between being welcoming and being wary on Monday, and I thank Hannah Lapp for being one of the angels along this man’s path without even being aware that she was one.

Meanwhile, I have heard the incredible stories about John Stahl, and how he welcomed everyone into his life and home. Perhaps his spirit was with us this week. In case you want to read John Stahl’s obituary, you can follow the link.

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