By Craig Tally
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The fourth Sunday of every April, our church follows the morning worship service with a membership birthday luncheon. Tables are decorated in the spirit of each month of the year. Each person enjoys lunch, dessert and a good time with others who share the same birth month.
My first experience with this tradition afforded me a grand introduction to Tanner, a delightful 5-year-old all-American boy who is now 10.
We missed last year because of the restorative work from the damage caused to our building by the tornado. So, naturally, as this year's luncheon approached, I greeted Tanner on the Sunday prior and commented on how much I was looking forward to the birthday dinner.
What I did not know was that Tanner was struggling with the matter of having to miss the next Sunday because of a basketball tournament. He did not want me to know that he would miss because of it.
Perhaps he thought I would be disappointed in him. Or maybe he thought it was wrong to miss church for this tournament.
Perhaps his feelings and thoughts involved a bit of both these possibilities.
Whatever was troubling him, he did not want me to know. The following letter, with the approval of his parents, comes out of this context:
"Dear Tanner, I am eager to hear all about your basketball tournament in Arkansas. I played basketball from the time I was in the fifth grade all the way through high school. I still love basketball. The Missouri Tigers are my team. I sure hope you are not a Jayhawk fan!
I want you to know that we February birthday people talked about you at the lunch last Sunday. We really missed having you there. I explained to them that you were not here because of your tournament.
I also want you to know that we hope you did well in the tournament. Most importantly, we hoped that you enjoyed yourself.
A little bird told me that you felt bad about missing church and that you were nervous about telling me. I'm sorry about that. Please know that you never have to be afraid to tell me anything. You need not ever to be afraid to talk with me about anything that might be bothering you. If I am going to be able to do a good job as your minister, you must understand the importance of what I am saying.
It might be good for you to know what would have happened had you told me that you would not be attending church or the luncheon. You would have explained that you are on a basketball team and a tournament had been scheduled in Arkansas. I would have asked about it. I would have asked about the position you play. We would have talked a little basketball, bashed the Jayhawks, and I would have wished you well. And you would have felt much better.
I would not have been disappointed in you, or thought that you were letting the church down, or thought that you were doing wrong. I would miss you because I like having you around.
Even if I thought you should not miss church in order to play the tournament, I would not have been disappointed in you. Perhaps we might have talked about it, but I would have understood and been sympathetic.
Remember this: If you usually attend church, and miss occasionally, you are fine. If you attend occasionally and miss often, then you might want to think about that. See you Sunday, my young friend!"
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.