I had a Semantics course for my communications major in college. I remember the professor saying that the word “fresh” by itself on a package of chips would be meaningless. When chips are first packaged, they are fresh. When the package has been in a vending machine for ten years after the zombie apocalypse, the chips are not fresh. The word “fresh” on the bag is meaningless unless it comes with an expiration date.
We moved into our Fresno apartment a month ago, and one of the things that pleased us about the place was all the churches along the street. As I took walks, I’d notice the church signs in the neighborhood. Sometimes I’ve been more observant than other times.
I need to share something else about a transition in our lives. I just started a job as a hotel night auditor again. At the last night auditor job, back in Healdsburg, I had seniority, so I could opt not to work Saturday nights. I don’t have seniority now. I worked this Saturday night and got home at a little after 5:00 am Sunday morning, and I thought I’d be up for the 8:00 am service at a church near us. But I didn’t wake up, so Mindy went to first service at the Bridge, our adopted home church. I said I’d be awake in time for the 10:30 service at another church a couple blocks down the street.
I was up at 10:00 am, and we walked to the church. When we got there, we realized the church didn’t have a 10:30 service. Some misremembering was involved, and actually the service time was 10:00 am -- so we didn’t go in (but we’re determined to go to that church next week).
So we went back to the Bridge for our 11:00 am Sunday School (or, as it’s called at The Bridge, “Adult Bible Fellowship”) class. We were very glad we did, because the person sharing was a missionary to Paris. Only about 6% of people in France ever go to church and only 1% to a Protestant Church, yet a recent poll found that 60% of people in France have questions about God that they feel they don’t have anyone they can ask. The missionary shared about their ministry to provide fresh, not churchy, ways to allow people to ask those questions. Much of what he shared corresponded with things we observed in last year’s journey around the country: the United States is, in many places, beginning to look a lot like France. Churches are going to have to get a lot more creative if they want to be heard.
We were very happy we made it for that class.
But we still needed to go to a new church this week. I remembered a neighborhood church that had a sign for a 4:30 pm service. But considering the day’s track record, I went to the church again to be sure we had the time right. There it was, clear as day, on the sign: 4:30 pm service.
We tried to double check the time, just in case, by looking up the service times on the internet, but as far as we could tell, the church had no internet presence. They didn’t have a website; they didn’t even have a Facebook account.
So we walked to the church a little after 4:00 pm. No one was there. We did notice some signs of disrepair. A sign said there was “NO KATEBOARDING”. (Now I want to go kateboarding, sounds like fun.) There were some fairly mature weeds in the asphalt of the parking lot.
We kept waiting. In college there used to be an informal rule that you were to wait ten minutes past start time for a teaching assistant, twenty minutes for a professor, and a half an hour for a tenured professor. We split the difference and waited twenty minutes. No one showed.
Like the word “fresh” on a chips bag, service times on a sign mean nothing if no one shows for church. If I was hungry for a bag of chips, I’d be disappointed if they weren’t fresh. If I had questions about God, I might be despairing if there was no one there to answer those questions.