I stared in shock and almost stopped leading the song “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as she walked through the door of our little country church. Long, stringy hair hung over her eyes, her slight frame lost in baggy clothes. She stood in the doorway, looking around the crowd as if searching for help.
What is she doing here, interrupting our church service? I thought, my face heating with irritation. Can’t she see we are worshiping God?
Kevin, my husband and the pastor, stood up from his place at the piano and gently guided the stranger into the vestibule. We continued with our service. But every eye was on the door, waiting to see if Kevin would return with or without the mysterious lady.
A few tense moments passed before both of them reentered the sanctuary. Kevin took his seat at the piano and the stranger stayed, sitting in the second row. She sang the hymns without a book, never missing a word. She even participated in the praise and sharing time, raising her hand when I asked for prayer requests. “My name is Tammy, and I’d like you to pray for my only brother, Joel, who needs a heart transplant.” She went into great detail about Joel’s health issues, as if we all knew him.
Where did she come from? Why is she here? I couldn’t help but wonder. Our church is six miles away from the nearest town and on the way to almost nowhere. Rarely do we receive visitors who just happen by.
In between shaking hands and chatting with our church members as they left, Kevin told me that Tammy’s brakes on her car were slipping and she needed help to fix them. Someone at her job had told her of a mechanic in our congregation. So she came when she knew people would be here — during our worship service!
It’s true; one of our deacons, Dallas Johnson, is a superb mechanic. He wasn’t available to help Tammy, but Fred and Grace, a couple known for their generosity, gave Tammy a check to cover her car repair. She thanked all of us profusely and went on her way.
At lunch I confessed to Kevin that my priorities were out of order. “I was offended that Tammy interrupted our worship,” I said. “Yet what does God count more worshipful than helping someone in need? Aren’t we called to not only gather, sing praises, and hear the Word of God but also to reach out to ‘the least of these’ like Tammy?”
I knew the answer to my question. I could even quote Jesus’ words to His disciples: “‘Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’”(Matthew 25:40). From now on, I’d have a different view of strangers in our midst.
Tammy’s visit was a month ago. She’s not been back to worship with us since. But I’m grateful for the gift she gave me — that divine interruption. It changed my thinking from “doing church” to “being the church.”