By the look of the crowd lined up on the porch, Sunday dinner in the mountains after church would be worth the wait. Todd and I made our way through the folks soaking up the sunshine in the parking lot and on the steps, men in Harley shirts looking over each other’s bikes and enjoying a smoke as they waited for their meat and three. There were families still dressed up from church, young couples in love, stroking each others’ arms or swinging held hands, barefoot kids running wild, the cuffs of their jeans still wet from wading the creek in the back. And there were old folks with walkers and oxygen tanks, sitting on rocking chairs, as various family members stood around them.
We’d been to the restaurant years ago, back when our kids were little. There was a porch where we could eat outside and they had an organ back there where a lady would play polka music and songs like “Hello Dolly” or “Put on a Happy Face” and if your three year old wanted to get up and dance around with his fried chicken leg, he could and nobody would care. As I remembered, the food was good, the temps were cooler than in Greenville, and we could check to see if the leaves had started to change. So here we were back again, kidless, just the two of us.
The hostess said that it was hard to tell on Sundays, but the wait shouldn’t be too long, that “folks are moving through pretty good.” So we found a place inside to stand, near the cashier, and waited. No rush. We were fine.
At first, all I noticed were the people.
They were all ages. Most looked to be from the surrounding countryside, all hungry but patient, waiting their turn.
Then my stomach started growling and I started paying attention to the folks lining up at the cashier to pay.
“Was it good?” the cashier asked.
“Yes ma’am,” the young lady said, getting cash out of the back pocket of her jeans. “The fried chicken here’s the best.”
“Did you make it to church today?” she said, looking up over her reading glasses at the girl.
“Uh…no,” she answered, slumping a little. “Woke up too late.”
“Mmm hmm,” said the cashier, handing her the change.
The girl stared at the floor as she walked away.
Maybe she knew her, I thought. They’re probably related.
The next man in line handed the cashier his bill and his credit card.
“Was it good?” the cashier asked.
“Delicious,” said the man.
“Make it to church today?” she asked.
“Indeed I did!” the man said, standing a little taller. “Great sermon.”
The man told her and she asked where it was and scribbled something on a notebook.
“Well you have a blessed day,” she said.
A man in a torn black tee shirt was next, with three other guys beside him.
“Was it good?”
“Oh yes ma’am, it sure was.”
“Did you make it to church this morning?”
“Did you go to church this morning. It’s Sunday. Did you go to church?”
“Ohhh. No ma’am, I can’t say that we did. We should have. But we didn’t.”
“Well, you have a good Sunday, ma’am.”
“Oh I will, indeed.”
For the next forty minutes I stood there and watched this lady ask every single person if they had made it to church that morning, and I heard all their responses and watched the way they walked away. One lady couldn’t go because she was taking care of her mother. Another was taking her parents to the mountains and they weren’t dressed for church, others said they missed it this Sunday but they’d be back next week. Others gave no excuse. One lady said, “Now why would I do something like that?” to which the cashier replied, “Hold on and let me get out of the way so I don’t get a rebound when God strikes you down.” She was the exception. Most folks did their best to explain, to make their excuse, and then quickly darted out the door.
Some slumped away, and several church goers practically strutted. I don’t think they meant to, necessarily. It probably just felt good to be acknowledged, to be praised for giving their morning to God. For doing the right thing, according to the cashier. To be in the same club. They didn’t necessarily know anyone was listening or watching.
By the time we sat down at our table, I was a little worked up. As I took out my frustration on my meatloaf, which I had to admit was very tasty, Todd and I talked all about it.
“Can you believe that! Did you see how that boy practically crawled away? And what was she doing making a list of churches?” She was giving Christianity a bad name, that’s what she was doing: having her own little Line Up and Be Shamed festival. This was not the way to attract people to church, to God. This was so wrong. SO WRONG.
I went up and got myself a strawberry shortcake at the dessert bar, because it wasn’t going to help God for me to go without dessert, and thought about what I’d have Todd say to her. (I was afraid I would chicken out and then I’d have to be mad at myself all afternoon.) Todd threatened to give the woman a heart attack by saying that yes indeed he went to a service but actually it was at a synagogue or a mosque- he couldn’t decide which he would go with.
“No, you can’t do that,” I said, but I knew he was joking. Todd is one of those people who doesn’t mind conflict in conversation. “Be true,” I said. “But I can’t take the tension. I’ve got to go outside.”
So I waited in the parking lot and watched and stood with the Harley people accidentally until one of the guys said hello and chuckled to himself. “Hi,” I said, and smiled and walked over to my car. I could just hear the cashier lady. She might count that as witnessing since I was wearing church clothes.
“So did she ask you? What did you say?”
“I told her that since I was married to a minister, yes, I’d been to church” and she said, ‘Well, then I guess you have to go, don’t you?!’ And then I pointed to her notebook where she’d written down everybody’s churches and asked her why she was keeping track, and she said she gives a 10% discount to churchgoers. It’s all for the discount, I guess.”
Suddenly the idea of giving a 10% discount for churchgoers bothered me, even though I’d heard of it before, even though I’d benefitted from it before. Join our club, it says. Do the right thing and be rewarded.
Even though I love God with all my heart, and will probably always go to church, this suddenly made me mad! What about all the people who can’t go to church because they’re so low they can’t even get out of bed? Or people who served others all week and just need to reflect upon God in the quiet?
Church is wonderful. Church is a huge part of my life. But it’s not something to worship. That’s all for God.
If we ever go back to that restaurant, I might bring them a sign for the discount, so they don’t have to ask. And I might also mention the organ. The world needs less shaming and more dancing to polka music with a chicken leg.