The smartest investment I made soon after moving to Northern Virginia was buying a portable GPS for my car. Navigating the busy streets of this metro area was intimidating until we got Maggie. Her British female voice guides me through all the traffic circles and neighborhood mazes and gets me where I am going.
I get into my car for a trip and, instantly, a female voice begins to tell me that I am going in the wrong direction, that I missed a turn, that I must turn around. That I am an idiot, basically. And I havent even turned the GPS on yet – thats my wife talking!
But sometimes this satellite system fails us.
Last Labor Day my wife and I were invited to a block party. A couple from our church put on quite an event for the people of their neighborhood: food, drink, games for the kids, a live rock band (area high schoolers getting out of their garage) and a movie. Theyve done this for years and, by now, a couple of hundred folks show up. Community spirit grows and bridge-building takes place.
My wife and I had to drive across town to this unfamiliar neighborhood in separate cars, starting from different places. I used MapQuest and she took Maggie to find her way.
I got there first and started enjoying the evening and meeting in my shy way people who did not know me from Adam or that I was a pastor (I prefer it that way!).
My wife arrived on the street a little bit later. She parked around the corner and walked on up the walk into the yard and crowded house. Everyone was a stranger to her, too, but not for long. In her typical way, Audrey worked the room and got to know the guests, probably being the life of the party. Most people are a little intimidated by a room filled with strangers, but she thrives on that stuff.
Finally, someone asked her who she knew and how she got invited. Oh, the owner of the house is a member of our church, she explained. There was a long pause. Oh, I I didnt know that Jim went to church anywhere, came the response.
There was another long pause, and then she realized it. There were two big parties happening on the same street, and my wife was at the wrong one.
Come to think of it, that drink did taste a little funny, she told me later.
Well, everybody had a good chuckle over it. The host of that party got her re-oriented and headed down the street to the party to which we had been originally invited. And she started all over unfazed.
It set me to thinking, though, about some of the people who show up at my church on Sundays. Do they ever wonder if maybe they are in the wrong place? And do we welcome every single one as if personally invited by God to be here? Wanted, needed, loved and most welcome!
My wife has the great ability and self-confidence to move freely through the crowd, making new friends everywhere. But whos that over in the corner, hugging the draperies? Most people are on the shy side, and need someone to speak to them first, to pull them in.
A GPS can get them to the party − but a real person has got to open the door.
Rev. Davidson is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Alexandria.