May 28, 2024

Friendship Class


Melanie sat in the back pew. She had limited speaking ability and relied on hand motions and facial gestures to communicate. As I was preaching one Sunday, I noticed the commotion as she left her seat, made her way to the aisle, and headed in my direction. Since she was short in stature, only the people seated near the center aisle could see her coming my way. Their eyes diverted in her direction with some measure of concern. Where is she going and what on earth is she doing? By the time she slowly made it to the front, she was visible to everyone. She gingerly climbed the three chancel steps and approached me. I stopped speaking, feeling the awkwardness of the moment. She extended her arms, hugged my leg, and left without a word. It was one of the sweetest moments I can ever recall in worship. She only wanted to give me a hug. That was all. Everyone smiled; some wept. While we often talk about what we can do in ministry for “these people,” this poignant moment reminded me of what people like Melanie can teach me. She and others like her in a “Friendship Class” of intellectually challenged adults taught me the value of simple, trusting faith. Many of us overthink God and become caught up in our heads. Melanie taught me the value of childlike trust. She and others in the class weren’t shy about expressing all sorts of emotions. Their vulnerabilities were plain for all to see. We hide our vulnerabilities; they express them. Most importantly, her gesture reminded me of Jesus’ answer to the question about the greatest commandment. Paul summarized his famous love chapter, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13.13). Today’s prayer was included in an Advent devotional written by the Friendship Class based on their reading of Psalm 130.5-8:

Dear LordI feel down and scared.
My disability makes me afraid that I can’t do what I need to.
I can’t control my circumstances.

Lord, give me patience.
Help me to wait.
Let me feel your LOVE and PEACE.
Help me stop, breathe and pray.

Lord, “You are the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8).
Your love never changes and it never will.
Your Word is your promise.
I put my hope in your Word.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.