Several years ago, I had a wonderful conversation with an interesting man named Bill Grimke-Drayton. Bill, who now lives in the UK, is connecting with family from the So. Carolina area. While his birth family were slave owners, he desires to connect with family members related to the slave owners as well as the slaves. He talked of his belief that it is only through the love of Christ that any of us will be able to love ourselves and love each other.
Bill stated he realized that many aren’t able to reach out to others because they don’t fully understand what grace offers them. During that brief conversation, Bill confessed that he does not attend “church,” but meets regularly with a group of men that love God and desire to know more about Jesus. He stated he has been blessed tremendously in this small group gathering. This brought to my mind something I saw while visiting Oceanside Pier one Winter Sunday afternoon.
While walking about, I noticed a dirty and very disheveled man sitting on a bench reading his Bible. My first thought was how great it was that this man felt free enough to read his Bible in the open. And yet, given his present condition, how sad it was that it may have been safer for him to stay there on a park bench alone than to walk into one of the area churches. I regret that I didn’t sit beside him and engage him in conversation regarding what he was reading. I missed an opportunity to have a Phillip and Ethiopian Eunuch experience (Acts 8:26-40). And for all I know, I could have been the eunuch.
What I did think, and later shared with Bill was, I realized then that there will be a lot of people in Heaven that we may not expect. There are people who not only read their Bible but are doing their best to exemplify Christ in their everyday lives. Can a dirty man sitting on park bench really show Christ? I believe the answer is a definite yes. Who is to say that someone didn’t sit down next to that man on the park bench? Perhaps, this was that man’s ministry? Certainly, it could have given him an opportunity to share The Gospel. Or am I just being a romantic?
Candace once told me of meeting with someone who professed a desire to read the Bible but couldn’t read. Having The Bible Experience on audio herself, she knew that audio Bibles were available but not cheap. This started us to brainstorm ways of getting the Word to those who desire it. Yes, even today there are various types of Ethiopian Eunuchs. If only there were more who desired to be like Phillip.
Some years before that conversation with Bill, I shared an idea with a church leader how I wanted to minister to the needs of those I saw at hi-way on and off ramps. My idea was to hand them a Bible tract that speaks to their need for physical and spiritual hunger. To meet their immediate need, I wanted to include a gift card to an area fast-food restaurant. I was told that it was a good idea but wouldn’t result in increasing church membership. I hope my face conveyed what I was screaming internally: “WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?!
Bill recalled asking a pastor what was being done about promoting diversity in its membership. The pastor of this all-white congregation admitted that should a person of color come, that some in the church leaders would warmly greet that person and then ask if they could help the person find a more suitable church. So, it seems what Martin Luther King Jr. said is still true; 11:00 am on Sunday is still the most segregated hour.
Unfortunately, the Church is segregated not only by color, but is also divided along lines of class, worship style preferences, whether it has a choir, and if the pastor is seen on TV. Many will not attend organized church because of the different ways it segregates or shows hypocrisy. While many churches tout their diversity, if you look more closely, what you may find are only slightly varied shades of the same type of person: Joe Go with the Flow or Bless Only Me Betty.
By gathering with his friends, Bill may be more in line with what the scripture states regarding our coming together. He was not neglecting the mandate to meet with other Believers to encourage and motivate to do God’s will (Heb 10:19-25). As for the man on the park bench, who is really in the wrong? Him for not going to church, or the people who do not act as the Church and welcome him with open arms? Or me, for walking by expecting someone else to engage with him instead of me?
Originally published 4/2011. Revised 6/2021.