"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”The pastor lowers his arms and we all sing the last song, a song that has closed our worship service for as long as many of us can remember. Papers rustle as the song leader dismisses us inviting everyone to share our "agape love feast" downstairs. The pianist plays a quick postlude, but no one is paying attention. Children run to join friends, mothers pass newborn babies to other eager arms, the line for the bathroom grows... The afternoon of fellowship has begun.
Elbowing one's way down the stairs one finds what can only be described as barely controlled chaos. Little children are lined up to get candy from "The Candy Lady." People who aren't little children anymore line up for coffee and stop at the bread baskets for a roll or maybe a slice of cinnamon bread. Asa Lopez shares a bottle of wine. Everyone makes his way to his seat as the dishwasher boys put a pitcher of ice water on every table. Finally a deacon announces that we're ready to start, though how anyone hears the microphone over all the happy noise is a mystery. Gradually the aisles clear, we say a prayer, share announcements (applauding for nearly every one), and then Deacon Barnard dismisses tables one by one.
Every week this same ritual takes place. Sometimes—when I'm not cutting up meatballs for or serving corn dogs to my children—I like to sit and listen. The sound of a hundred conversations, the sound of silverware clattering on plates, the sound of laughter... It's boisterous, it's noisy, it's crowded. But these are the sounds of fellowship.