Jesus in the Church

"But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." -Jesus

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I.

Ann Curtis was a slight woman who stood somewhere near 5'11'' if you included her silver beehive hairdo. It was well known that she took the morning shift at the prayer room. In fact, Mrs. Curtis took two morning shifts and would often cover the third on account of the fact that the third watch was claimed by a traveling salesman whose morning calls and morning prayers were sometimes at odds.

She lived across the street from the First Baptist Church, which was convenient because she spent the majority of her day there. Her husband had passed some years before, and instead of becoming some kind of assisted-living hermitess, she reckoned to spend her days serving the church in prayer.

Every morning Mrs. Curtis walked to the church, stopping sometimes by the bakery to grab a loaf of bread, a pastry, or a pint of milk. She did a great deal of walking, I remember, and I think this was because she had some kind of difficulty driving. This was not the kind of difficulty brought on by old age or senility; instead, it was the sort brought on by the fact that she had a hairdo that didn't much cooperate with being mashed against the ceiling-liner of her old Buick. So, Mrs. Curtis walked just about everywhere, lips moving all the while in prayer.

When I was fifteen our church youth group held a "True Love Waits" conference, wherein the lot of us gathered at the church house for the weekend and signed pledge cards vowing that we'd wait till marriage to taste the sweet fruits of monogamous marital bliss. Come to find out, those vows were fairly flexible for most of us, but that issue aside, some lasting good came of the event. The conference culminated at the Sunday evening church meeting, and after the Pastor explained the event to the church, he invited each of us to the front, where we laid our "True Love Waits" pledge cards on the stage. The Pastor then invited the congregants to make their own pledge.

"Come to the front and take a card," he said. "Pledge to pray for the purity of whatever name you draw until said name is faithfully joined in holy matrimony."

As fate, fortune, and the Holy Ghost would have it, Mrs. Curtis drew my name. She never told me that she had come into possession of my pledge card. She never broached the subject of purity or lust with me, which is good because the awkward quotient to any such conversation would have been rivaled only by the time Sister Sarto had the "sex talk" with my class of sixth grade boys in Catholic school. In any event, Mrs. Curtis never spoke a word to me other than "hello son," or "would you hold the door, please?" Sometimes she'd use my arm as a sort of extended hand rail for climbing up the church stoop on Sunday morning, and she'd smile her thanks. This was the extent of our real world interactions.

Mrs. Curtis' interactions were never strictly limited to the real world, though.

Seven years and two children into my marriage, I received word that Mrs. Curtis had passed away. In the moment, I regretted that we never had a serious conversation, mostly because I was too busy taking my life too seriously and had failed to stop and consider the elderly saint. The minister who called to pass along the word of Mrs. Curtis' death had some news. "I want you to know," he said, "that Mrs. Curtis kept your pledge card in her Bible till the day she died. I happen to know that she never missed a day of praying for you, even after you were married."

II.

If you don't see Jesus in the church, perhaps you're not looking in the right place.

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Photo by ☻☺, Creative Commons via Flickr.