I met an evangelist in the grocery store today. She was standing in front of me in the check-out line. I pulled my buggy up behind hers because that lane seemed to be the shortest. I was in a hurry, so, when she left her buggy standing in line to go and pick out one final item, I thought to myself, “Oh brother! How long is this going to take?”
She returned before the person in front had finished checking out, but, instead of moving her buggy up in the now-vacated space and beginning to unload her items onto the conveyer, she held up her latest item and showed it to me proudly. At first she didn’t say anything. She just smiled. “Looks good,” I said for no reason other than to be polite. “Doesn’t it?” she responded. “You know, this is vegetarian!” she remarked with exuberance. Pointing to each ingredient listed on the front of the box, she explained that the flatbread entrée contained zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, etc.. She named and pointed to every single vegetable on the list with a display of dignity, deliberation, and pride. “I try to eat healthy. This is good for you.” Ignoring the cheese that covered the whole thing, I said, “Looks like it. I try to eat healthy, but I don’t try very hard.”
By this time, the person in front of her was signing her check. All her items were in bags. She was ready to go. And the woman in front of me wouldn’t even turn around to look at the empty lane ahead of her. She just wanted to look at me and talk about her healthful eating habits. “Ahh!” I screamed inside of myself. Resisting the temptation to begin unloading her buggy for her, I tapped my foot and shifted my weight back and forth as if to suggest a need for her to hurry. She did not pick up on the visual clues.
Briefly, at last, she turned around and pushed her buggy forward. But then she stopped. Looking at me, she asked, “Do you mind if I ask where you pastor at?” I told her about St. John’s Episcopal Church. “Where is that?” I told her downtown. “Where downtown?” I explained our location, identifying it both by street address and by other nearby landmarks. Finally clear of where I serve, she looked at my buggy and then back at me and then back at my buggy and then at me again. In a whispered voice, she said, “Are you the…you’re not the…are you the senior pastor there?” I told her yes, and she nodded.
After a few moments of quiet, while she placed the first few items on the conveyer, she pointed to the beer in my buggy, “You know, it’s ok if you drink. That’s ok.” It occurred to me that her hesitation about me being the “senior pastor” had nothing to do with my age (the usual issue) but instead was prompted by my purchase of alcohol. “Oh yes!” I eagerly replied. “It is ok to drink—just not to excess,” I added to provide a commonality that wouldn’t abruptly and rudely end the conversation. At that point, I decided to enjoy the moment and let go of my need to hurry up.
“So, in your church you can drink but just not get drunk?” Bingo. “But not [garbled word]?” I thought she had said, “But not for an occasion?” as if to ask that we aren’t allowed to drink at an official church event. Knowing that’s the way it works in the United Methodist Church (ministers can drink but not at church events), I said, “No, we can do that, too.” She looked very nervous. Unsure of my response, she asked a second time, only this time I understood her. “Fornication?” I laughed. “No, not that,” though part of me wanted to ask what she meant by fornication. I’m not sure she would approve of the General Convention, but I decided to let that one go. I didn’t have all day.
We carried on our pleasant conversation. Eventually, she got all of her items on the conveyer. Then she looked at the cashier. Then at the bagger. “You want to go to his church with me?” she asked them. They were stunned. She asked again. “Want to go with me to church? I know where it is. I’ll even pick you up. And I won’t even ask you to pay for gas. You can’t say no to that, can you? Come on! Come with me to church.” Wow! Here was a woman whose name I still don’t know, and she’s trying to get people to come to my church. It was my turn, so I turned around and looked at the woman standing behind me in line, “I need her in my church,” I remarked. “She’s quite the evangelist.”
I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know who she is. But that woman—whoever it was—knows what it means to spread the gospel. She made a relationship out of nothing more than a buggy full of stuff. She turned this hardhearted, cynical, hurried, impatient priest into putty in her hand. She could have asked me to go to her church, and I would have said yes. I almost wanted her to ask me. Whoever she is, she’s a witness.