A pastor-friend of mine calls them "Chreasters," those people who come to church only at Christmas and Easter. He is wistful about that sizeable segment of the congregation he sees only on Christmas Eve and maybe Good Friday. Why pull out all the stops for people who give only nodding recognition to the Almighty on the holiest of days? After you've done that a dozen or two years in a row to little visible effect, it is easy to become cynical about the value of your ministry to the holiday-only crowd.

Every year at this time, I remember a story told at least annually by Lula, an older woman in our New Orleans congregation. More than 40 years ago, she was new in town, a poor young mother with four children. She and her husband barely scraped together the rent on the lot where their small trailer sat. The husband developed a reputation through the years as a difficult man, but he never prevented her from going to church. It was her only escape.

A few times in that first year after she arrived ...

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