I like to look around during the prayers. You get a chance to take it all in while everyone else has their eyes closed. Who is here? Up ahead of me is a little old lady, the mother of a good friend of ours. She is faithfully here every week for the 9 am service, plump, made up with powder and lipstick, and a little white bob of hair peeking out over the pew. She is sitting beside the other usual suspect, another old lady from the same elder care complex. That one is of the “pistol-in-her-purse” variety. If you cough behind her, she will turn around and glare, while white-knuckling her cane like she is itching to hit you. She is going to visit her 90 year old mom after the service, and she is a germaphobe for that reason. This is also part of her routine, warming up the same pew week after week on a Sunday morning.
A lot of people get called out for that, the pew warmers. Some of them come to church only on Christmas and Easter so you call them C&E Christians. They are not as faithful as those little old ladies.
You can’t underestimate the oldsters. They pack a lot away a lot of unknowns in a small package. The little old lady who is mother to our friend did a very good job it seems. Her son is a very nice guy and he and his wife do a lot of unsolicited favours for those around them who need a hand in one way or another. They make themselves busy with others, despite their own family life. You can never underestimate what good a little old lady might do in the world, simply by having reared up great children.
My mom added an interesting wrinkle to this argument. She had been a teacher, and at a certain point she wanted to re-enter the workforce despite a twenty year stretch being very busy with children and running a household. The somewhat glib interviewer pointed out the gap in her resume and her lack of current experience because of it. My mom handed that man back a piece of her mind, and asked him how he would manage the multi tasking skills that a mother must summon every day of the week. She of course, got the job. He didn’t know how to answer when interviewed back.
There is also the little old lady that Jesus defended. The Scribes and the Pharisees laughed at her when the collection plate came around. She didn’t have much to contribute. The Pharisees and Scribes got on very well in their own eyes, and they thought pretty highly of their own contributions. They liked to put on a good show in front of the people, flashing the fifties and hundreds when that collection plate came around. Jesus said, not so fast. You guys give only a little out of your abundance, that little old lady you are laughing at, is giving everything extra she has to live on, as her part. Never underestimate little old ladies.
The old lady in church, we have been seeing her in that spot warming that particular pew for a long time. It is her sole contribution it would seem, a pew warmer. And yet, it is just that, her contribution, not to be diminished especially if you want to factor in faithfulness.
We laugh at pew warmers and are admonished not to be like them. Sermons are based on the idea. Don’t be a pew warmer. Often the churches leave you loaded up with exhortations. Do this, don’t do that. Join this committee or give to this program, volunteer. Don’t just warm a pew. They burden you up with many heavy expectations and they also underestimate the pew warmers.
For anyone with a family, you will get a picture of who is a contributor and who is a non contributor. Put in frank terms, your kids are living free off the fat of the land for a long time, while contributing little. They are non contributors. They are the pew-warmers of family life. Go to any mother and suggest to her that her child has little worth, and see what reaction you get. Pray that she won’t have an umbrella in her hand to brain you with. The answer is pretty straightforward. They are part of the family. Mind your own business. I’ll take my pew warmers and just go home, thank you very much, without the benefit of your opinion.
The little old lady, the faithful pew warmer got some not so good news from the doctor a while back. She knows that her time in this place has a certain limit. She has been told. Nonetheless, it does not seem to faze her. Even after getting that news, she has been there every week, God willing and physical health allowing. She is equally made up and equally demure. She is understated, like a rock that just sits there holding everything together. She is a pretty good pew warmer and God willing she will be warming that spot for a little while yet.
The Bible has a lot to say in these matters. Paul criticized the Churches he ministered to, for playing favourites among the rich and the poor, who was worthy of mention and public displays of respect. The best spots saved for them at banquet tables, sitting close to the host and being handed the best robes.
Jesus said it too. Don’t underestimate the part someone plays. He said the stone that the builders threw away and rejected, became the corner stone, the one that sets the corners of a structure square, and plays an understated part in the integrity of the whole.
God bless the pew warmers. They are part of the family, all arguments aside. They are the placeholders for the invisibles we may never fully appreciate, but in the eyes of God mean a lot. Blessed are the pew warmers for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. They may even be sitting in the best places ahead of you, chatting up a storm with the host of the feast, and dressed in fancy robes of white.