The high school was right across the street from the church, yet they might have been in two different worlds. Two solitudes, or so it seemed, except for the half- dozen teens who attended church with their families.
There was little traffic between the two buildings unless you counted the teens who sat on the church steps and smoked during lunch hour. We never chased them away. We wanted them to feel that the church property was a safe and friendly place for them. We would greet them as we walked by. Perhaps a touch of acceptance would bridge the gap.
One day, one of the girls stuck her head round the office door and asked if she could talk. Tearfully, she told her story. Her boyfriend had been killed in a car accident two weeks before and she had not been able to face going to his funeral. She felt guilty and regretful. Poignantly, she said, “I never got to say goodbye.” She felt that she could never recover the lost opportunity.
We talked. She heard the message that God is not bound by time and that God could fix the past right now in the present. She understood that both God and her boyfriend could and would forgive. She responded to the invitation to come and kneel at the altar rail for prayer.
We prayed together and, in the course of those prayers, she was invited to ask both God and her boyfriend for forgiveness. Then she was ready to make her goodbyes. Prayerfully, she voiced her farewell to her boyfriend right there at the altar rail.
For a while, it seemed like time was suspended and that we were in another place. We were in the presence of God, and her boyfriend was standing there with Jesus at his side. She went away feeling comforted, knowing she was forgiven. God had met her need in a very real and intimate and loving way.
Did this young woman return to a church? Did God become an important part of her life? That is not something we ever got to know. But this young woman will never forget that the church ministered to her and that God met her need for forgiveness and comfort and love.
Allowing some teens to sit on the church steps and smoke doesn’t sound like outreach or evangelism. Yet it enabled them to see the church as somewhere safe and welcoming.
In turn, this led one young woman to bring her overwhelming need inside the church so that she could seek the love and forgiveness of God.
Perhaps there was only one person brought into God’s presence that day out of the 900 or so who went to the school across the street from the church. But that is better than even one being turned away.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14; NRSV). Ω
The Rev. Patrick Tomalin, with his wife, the Ven. Dianne Tomalin, served at Trinity Anglican/Lutheran Church in Port Alberni, B.C., where they now live in retirement.