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I had a chance on a recent trip to attend one of the most successful churches in America. It packs in more than 20,000 people at its weekend services. Its pastor is the author of bestselling books and is a world figure. The church is inspiring, effective, and relevant.

Fortunately, it became impossible to attend there, and instead I was blessed to end up at an irrelevant church. Our family arrived promptly at 10:00 A.M., and we were greeted by a woman who was getting up from pulling a few weeds in front of the church sign. She welcomed us warmly and escorted us into the nearly empty sanctuary. After we were greeted by two other people, as well as the pastor, a handful of people straggled in and worship began.

We were led in music by the weed-puller, who now had a guitar strapped on. She was accompanied by two singers and an overweight man on percussion. They were earnest musicians who, frankly, were sometimes flat or a little stiff, as if they were still trying to learn the music. The service, which included maybe 45 people, bumbled along—that is, by contemporary, professional, "seeker-sensitive" standards. The dress of the congregants suggested that there were some people of substance there, as well as some people on welfare. Some blacks, mostly whites. In front of me sat a woman wearing way too much makeup (at least according to my suburb's refined standards), pouffy hair, and an all-black outfit.

Communion was introduced without the words of institution—a bit of a scandal to my Anglican sensibilities. The pastor took prayer requests, and petitions were made for illnesses, depression, and a safe journey for my family.

It was during the announcements that I began to suspect I was in the midst of the people of God. ...

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July 2006

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