(Where has the time gone? Where have I gone? I know, I know, I’ve been a poor caretaker of this web site. Let’s see if I can do better.)
The church we are a part of celebrated their 20th anniversary a couple of weeks ago, and as part of that celebration produced a video about the first 20 years. Almost nine minutes in, Tim Harris talks about greeting visitors at the church’s first building, and says, “I didn’t do it to the degree of Loyd…”. We did meet Tim and Cindy very early on in that building, but nobody did (or does) it to the “degree of Loyd.”1
We had been members of a church for half-a-lifetime (35 years for me, 20 for my wife) when God called us somewhere else. That somewhere else imploded and we found ourselves spiritually homeless after a few short months. Before we left that somewhere else, we had visited three different small groups, and literally no one spoke to us in any of them. (“Literally” in the literal sense, not in the “only mostly dead” sense that this generation employs it.)
As we started looking for a new church, we didn’t really know what we were doing, as we’d never had to look for a new one before. After a few scattered weeks, we decided to pick one and go there until God said “No.” The “No’s” came pretty fast on the first two we visited, and then we got to 121.
The church and the freeway. The church’s store-front building was on the 121 access road.2 They had donuts(!) outside the front door, and inside they had about a six-by-eight foot entryway and the “big room,” which held 250 people at capacity, and by the time the service started that morning it was at capacity. (People today3 call a room “full” if it’s about 75% occupied. This wasn’t “full.” There were 250 seats, and there were 250 bodies in those seats.)
After the service, we were—what’s the right word? greeted? accosted? waylaid?—by a man who introverts see in their nightmares. He was loud, he was bold, and his vocabulary did not include the word “stranger.” He had the kind of gravelly voice that normally comes from a lifetime of singing and drinking in smoke-filled bars, but in his case is the result of a career in auctioneering. (Or maybe he sounded like that when he was 12. With Loyd, anything is possible.)
I have no recollection of what was said on either side. Neither my wife or I are introverts (for the most part), and we’d been in a lot of churches, which seem to attract boisterous greeters like a rehashed bad idea attracts movie studios, so we just shared names, said hello, and I don’t know what else. We spent a couple of minutes in Loyd’s enthrall, went home, and didn’t think about the encounter again.
Until the next week, when, since there hadn’t been a “No” yet, we went back. As I was opening Sharon’s car door, the voice of God, if God had spent a lifetime auctioneering or singing and drinking in smoke-filled bars, yelled across the parking lot, “THERE’S VINCE AND SHARON RICE!”
It’s hard to describe what that did for us. We’d only been in the figurative desert for three or four months, but community is a huge value of ours (we’d helped lead small groups the previous eight years), and we hadn’t had any in those intervening months. We’d met this guy for two minutes, and he not only remembered our names (our first and last names), he’d recognized us all the way across the parking lot and felt compelled to tell the rest of 121 (the church and the freeway) we were there. We knew what Norm must have felt like every week.
It might be too much to say we’re at 121CC because of Loyd, but the gravelly voice called our name and the still, quiet voice never said “No,” so draw your own conclusions. It’s not too much to say that Loyd is the heart of 121CC. The introverts may walk away from their greeting faster than the rest of us, but they still walk away knowing they were loved. I’ve seen Loyd talk a man out of leaving with his family because the music was too loud. (Which is an oxymoron, but don’t get me started.) I’ve seen him empty his pockets countless times for whatever cause happened to hit him up that morning (Cambodia more often than not), and I’ve seen him love every single person he’s encountered.
Hospitality often gets short shrift at churches, for reasons that have always escaped me. As Steve Camp wrote many years ago, we shouldn’t tell people Jesus loves them until we’re ready to love them, too, and that starts at the front door and continues all the way to the big room and back out to the front door again. Every church should be full of people who refuse to allow visitors to escape without being seen, and heard, and loved. And they should be led, literally or figuratively, by a Loyd.
But you have to get your own. We’re keeping ours.