On Sunday mornings, I pull my truck into the church parking lot around 7:45 A.M., before most people get there. Our building sits in the center of a clearing in the woods, with parking spaces forming a “U” across the front and down the sides. The lot is usually empty, but I always spot a familiar group of men and women huddled in a circle, all wearing the same bright green vests and hats: the parking team.
For months running on years, these folks have shuttled hundreds of cars in and out of our parking lot. Such orchestration requires a degree of focus that, under the wrong conditions, could verge on faithlessness—the type of hyper-control that might cause one to forget the transcendent in favor of the here-and-now. That’s why they gather there in the lot, before everyone begins parking, to pray.
What would the parking team pray for, pray tell?
It’s an easy bet that they pray for safety—wouldn’t you? Cars, minivans, big ol’ Southern-boy trucks, and the occasional motorcycle all bring people rolling, bumping, and careening to worship. We have an array of people in our congregation, with patient, calm drivers mixing in with kid-wrangling parents and distracted college students.
However, while safety is important, the parking team prays hardest for an opportunity to represent the gospel to someone who might be far from God. That’s why they call themselves the Outdoor Worship Team. More than anything else, they pray for opportunity.
In part, they wear those vests to attract attention. Safety green—to my eye, the glow makes it look like the vests have been dipped in nuclear waste. The reflective strips that run the length of the vest, from the shoulders to the waist, flicker brightly in the slim Sunday morning light. That’s probably the most dangerous thing these team members do, in fact: they put on that vest. All the planning, training, positioning, and praying can’t keep a driver from being distracted by reflected light.
Yet the Outdoor Worship Team recognizes what many of us can’t see: our safety doesn’t always coincide with God’s glory. Yes, worship might come in the midst of violence or trauma or a fender-bender in the church parking lot. We don’t like to admit it, but in the world we live in, pain or even violence may enliven worship.
But those vests reflect the light that many on the Outdoor Worship Team carry with them—a smile and a wave, a conversation, or even directions into the building. Sometimes, they’ve even been known to change a tire or two. They don’t call these interactions accidents. “Nothing’s an accident,” they’ll say. Not the handful of times when a distracted driver spun into the parking lot and fixated on that safety green long enough to run into another car. Not that time a woman hit the only thing there was to hit—a light pole—and wasn’t even mad.
These are opportunities: to serve, to help, to worship. That Sunday morning motorcade of believer and nonbeliever, seeker and pilgrim, sinner and saint—it pulls into our parking lot weekend after weekend. And every time, the parking team stands in the way of all of those vehicles, directing the congregation into that narrow space of worship by a light reflected.