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What I learned from an old man about the blessing of belonging.

In northwest Iowa in the 1970s few things provoked as much passion as hog prices, high school basketball . . . or congregational meetings.

The man’s demure wife, seated next to him, simply reached up to the bottom of his sport coat and gave two brisk tugs.

Excitement and anticipation thickened the air as parishioners entered the church. This particular congregational meeting was sure to be one of the most important in the history of the church—its significance heightened by the fact that, for the first time, women were granted the right to vote.

The issue at stake was whether or not to build a new house of worship. The building was old and the church kept growing. Perhaps now was the time. I called the meeting to order, read appropriate Scripture, and led in a prayer asking for wisdom and unity without politicking.

Then the floor opened for discussion. An elderly man rose to speak. One of the newer members of the church, he had recently retired from the farm and moved to a new home in this town, bringing with him a reputation as a staunch churchman. He spoke with passion, his defiant opposition to the proposal obvious to all. He enumerated multiple reasons for his stance: a weak economy, low prices, a perfectly good, serviceable old church building.

Listening to what seemed like an unceasing rant, I was wondering how to graciously bring it to a close, when help came from an unexpected source. The man’s demure wife, seated next to him, simply reached up to the bottom of his sport coat and gave two brisk tugs. Immediately the tirade ended, and he meekly sat down. I was perhaps the only witness to this “power” display, and thus for the rest of the evening my most difficult task was not controlling the meeting but rather stopping myself from laughing out loud.

After lengthy discussion featuring the gamut of opinions and emotions, the time came for a vote by secret ballot. The final tally told the future of a congregation eager to move forward and build a new house of worship: more than 85 percent were in favor of the project. On that convincing note the meeting adjourned with prayer. But it was hardly the end of the story.

The next morning the elderly man vehemently opposed to the project took a walk. In the course of his walk he stopped at the house of the church treasurer, where he dropped off a sizeable check made out to the New Church Building Fund.

Had someone convinced him to change his mind? Had a divine epiphany brought this about? Neither of the above. But he was a churchman. This was his church, and the members were his brothers and sisters in Christ. He was one of them, and they had spoken. He had an obligation to support their decision. He had been blessed, and he would do his part.

Few lessons in the history of my ministry were impressed on me quite as indelibly as what I learned from this old man about the blessing of belonging. To be a member of the body of Christ is to realize the joy of belonging, with all its rights and privileges. In a world of warring opinions and ideologies, of clashing agendas and passionate disagreement, the truth and beauty of belonging is a priceless comfort to savor.

The man’s demure wife, seated next to him, simply reached up to the bottom of his sport coat and gave two brisk tugs.

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