It's at a Presbyterian church in the city, in an old, established neighborhood bounded by historic homes to the east and the university to the west, but very near the heart of urban Indianapolis. We visited this church one Sunday. It's not wealthy and pinned down by generations of contributors, nor driven to grow like so many contemporary Christian congregations these days. It was a balance of young and old, brown and white, "have" and "have not."
Every morning that I drop Sara off I'm drawn to the place: A traditional red brick Colonial with white porticoes and a simple steeple over the sanctuary. There is a playground to the east, not especially modern or elaborate but endearing in its signs of use. The front of the church faces a wide, green lawn with flowering trees and bushes and a huge, sprawling oak that shades the walk from the street to the door. Tulips and daffodils and pansies, planted enthusiastically if not strategically, are going wild this time of year and provide Sara and me with plenty of excuses to stop and smell and ooh and ahh every day as we come and go. (Something about these flowers convinces that me they are really there for me and for you and for the people this church serves, rather than for the people who worship there.)
There is a picnic table under another large tree with benches that sag from years of use and countless church socials. The sign at the corner that speaks to the passing traffic frequently offers homespun announcements, like
"Our cod is an awesome cod"
promoting the annual fish fry or, most recently,
"Halleluia! Christ is Risen and we love our Bulldogs!"
a celebration of both the Resurrection of Our Lord and Butler's NCAA championship run. (And yes: In Indiana, during March Madness, eternal salvation and the hometown underdog's lead-in to the Big Dance do indeed command equal billing -- though to my relief Jesus did, at least, get top billing.) Just this week a banner reading RUMMAGE SALE APRIL 22 23 & 24 appeared, swinging between the trees and offering Sara an opportunity to read every letter and every number out loud, and ask me "Mama, what is dat fing after da free?"
As you get to the door you can see that the paint is chipping and there are patches of crumbling concrete. The latch to the door is fidgety, and Sara always struggles to open it.
Inside the church the walls are lined with the children's artwork, glitter and construction paper and inconsistently recognizable shapes stamped in tempera paints on paper plates. Jackets and satchels and rubber boots line the halls, and cubbies are neatly labeled. Today a yellow sign reading "It's a beautiful day today, come join us outside for a picnic!" was posted beside the door. The kids were scattered -- some at activity tables, some at a book reading, some at the costume box. Sara and I, late as usual, went through our morning ritual: drop off her bag and jacket, take out her lunch, deposit lunch in the fridge, and wash her hands (one pump of soap, three pulls for paper towel). Then hugs and kisses, and we're on our way.
At the end of the hall another kind of day care is in session, this time with a dozen or so elderly visitors who come to sit and chat and take their meals under the care of a local Catholic ministry. I often pass their room and see the volunteers and nuns caring for them and think I'd like to spend some time there, too. Maybe someday.
I learned recently that Miss Jeanie, the Wednesday morning gymnastics teacher, will sometimes take the children up to be with the elder care group. Sara explained this to me one night as she was going to sleep, telling me that they went to Seniors class that day and she was with her buddy, and they exercise together, and it's OK if someone drops a ball because it's tricky for everyone, so they just try again. (Yes, my heart did burst. Didn't yours?)
I love this place. It is a church in every right sense, at least from the perspective of someone being served by it. The sincerity of their ministry is obvious, whether it's in the chipped paint and sagging picnic bench or proud celebration of the local school or Sara's buddy at Seniors class. There's no pretense. Just open arms.
RUMMAGE SALE APRIL 22 23 & 24. If you find yourself there, take a look around. Maybe you'll see what I see, too.