“Welcome to Barn Church!” Jonathan says haltingly but with a warm smile as he greets people gathered in our barn.
Jonathan began preparing for this meeting a month earlier when he asked my husband and me to find a date on the calendar for his next Barn Church meeting. Together we looked and settled on a Friday evening in early fall.
A few weeks later, he steps onto the platform to make an announcement during a Sunday church service, inviting friends and family in our congregation to: “Come to the barn this Friday night at seven–dot–dot–“o”–“o” (which is his way of saying 7:00). A-l-l-l-l come. Bring cookies.” Then he and my husband banter back and forth about who should come and what they should bring. And this is where Jonathan really shines. He laughs freely and slaps his hand on the podium as a humorous gesture and somehow he manages to charm the crowd every time. He owns the moment.
And then as if he has an innate sense that tells him he has accomplished his goal, he hands the microphone back to my husband and steps off the platform, confident a crowd will come.
What makes this event so unique is the fact that Jonathan is unable to speak intelligibly. He speaks, but only those who know him well are able to understand what he is saying. Those who come to the Barn Church understand this, yet they come eager to hear from Pastor Jonathan. They come because they love him and want to be supportive. They know Barn Church is his idea and that he wants to be a pastor.
Perhaps, it is because his dad is a pastor and he wants to be like him. Or maybe he feels his own spiritual calling. And then again, it could just be that he wants his life to count, and this is the world he knows best. Whatever the case, Jonathan serves in the role of senior pastor of the Barn Church and he takes his role seriously.
Now the day has arrived and it’s time to write his talk and prepare the barn. He spends the afternoon getting ready. First on his agenda is choosing his topic. Foremost on his mind is the recent shooting that took place on a college campus in Oregon. Jonathan is upset about this tragedy and he wants to talk about it. He wants to tell his Barn Church congregation that these shootings must stop.
When I ask him what he wants to speak about, he responds, “No more shootings!”
I suggest, “How about ‘What Do You Do When Bad Things Happen?'” We agree.
I go to work preparing his flip-chart which is laid out on our kitchen table. Using big felt-tipped markers, I write out his outline. As I do, he passes by periodically to give his approval and make choices about Scripture verses and big ideas he wants to communicate.
Afterwards, he prepares the barn. Dad pitches in and they set up tables and chairs and wipe the dust that has accumulated since the last barn church meeting. The horses, munching on their hay, periodically look up to watch.
Once the barn is set, Jonathan returns to the kitchen for his flip-chart. He clips it to an easel and carries it out to the barn and sets it up in the front.
As the time approaches, I can sense Jonathan’s anticipation. He doesn’t seem worried or anxious, just ready. He loves Barn Church. To him it serves a very important function and he is resolute in his pastoral duties.
Finally the hour arrives. After a rain-soaked day, the air feels cool and moist. The cloudy sky is now giving way to darkness. It’s 6:45 pm and people start arriving. They shuffle into the barn, all ages– children, adults, and elderly grandparents. They’re dressed casually in jeans and tennis shoes, wearing light jackets, twenty-five in all. Some bring snacks to share, caramel apples, popcorn, and brownies and set them next to the steaming hot apple cider already on the food table. Then after helping themselves to a cup of hot cider, they make their way over to the tables to find a seat.
The atmosphere is warm and friendly. Folks greet friends and meet visitors. Once everyone is seated, the meeting begins.
Jonathan reads his title, “What Do You Do When Bad Things Happen?” I interrupt to explain the context for Jonathan’s talk–the recent shootings in Oregon.
People listen attentively, while horses nicker softly in the background. Jonathan reads from his outline, “What do you do when bad things happen?” He turns to the crowd gesturing the question and points to them one by one, expecting each to answer.
“I pray,” is the response of most.
One blurted out,”I hide,” which struck Jonathan as funny, so he laughed. And so did we.
“Pray,” he responds.
“And then what?”.
Jonathan pauses to think, and then acts out wrestling a bad guy to the ground and putting handcuffs on him. Everyone laughs, and I suggest he get back to his talk.
Jonathan meticulously reads his outline about prayer . . . cast your cares on God, knowing God cares for you; and stay steady in difficult times. He flexes his muscles as he encourages the small crowd to stay steady and strong.
He finishes his sermon with two final admonitions, “Go to church,” and “Stay close to family and friends.”
As he flips the final page of his outline, everyone applauds and offers up a hearty, “Amen!”
Then Jonathan puts his hands together, closes his eyes, and tilts his head toward heaven. And in language we can all understand, he prays, “Jesus, help the people who were hurt by the shooting. Help the people in surgery. Help there be no more shooting. A-a-a-men!”
The crowd sits a moment letting the significance of Jonathan’s prayer settle over them. Then slowly, they get up and make their way to the food table where they stand around eating, talking, and enjoying the shared experience. Jonathan gathers up his easel and flip-chart and carries them up to his office–a room built in the loft of the barn with a nameplate on the door which simply reads, Senior Pastor Jonathan.