What we call the Chapel at Manna House is an extension of the shed in the backyard. In this covered space there are a few old donated church pews and some park benches, along with a statue of St. Francis, and a large crucifix where a silver Jesus hangs from a wooden cross attached to the shed’s sheet metal wall. It is not fancy. But it has been the scene for a few weddings among guests, memorial services for guests who have died, and even one ordination for a Manna House volunteer now a chaplain at a local hospital.
In COVID times, since we cannot crowd into the house, guests gather in the backyard, even when it rains. We make do with picnic table umbrellas, a red tent, and the Chapel, as places where the guests can stay dry.
As I moved around the backyard this morning talking with guests, I stopped in the chapel.
“How you all enjoying church this morning?” I asked.
“This ain’t no damn church,” a rather sour faced guest responded.
I said, “You’re sitting on pews, there’s a statue and a crucifix, and over there is the minister.” I pointed to another guest, and then added, “He’s about to take up a collection, $5 dollars from each of you.”
“I’m a minister, too!” the sour guest said. And we all laughed, even him.
Then he said, “Charlton Heston was a horrible Moses. He messed up that movie ‘The Ten Commandments.’”
“He sure did,” I said, “no white man would stand with slaves and get them free. Besides Moses was dark skinned.”
The guest smiled and shook his head as if amazed and asked, “What’s your name?”
I told him and asked him for his name. Then he said, “Let me tell you a joke.”
“A man goes to church on Sunday. While he’s waiting for the service to start a Deacon taps him on the shoulder and says, ‘You aren’t allowed in here. You got to go.’ The man is upset, but he doesn’t want to cause a scene, so he gets up and goes. During the week he prays about it and thinks about it and decides maybe he wasn’t dressed properly for church. So, he gets a suit and returns the next Sunday to the same church. While he’s waiting for the service to start a Deacon taps him on the shoulder and says, ‘You aren’t allowed in here. You got to go.’ The man is upset, but he doesn’t want to cause a scene, so he gets up and goes. During the week he prays about it and thinks about it and decides maybe he needs to make a sizeable offering then he’ll be allowed to stay. So, he returns the next Sunday to the same church. He makes it until the offering when he puts $500 dollars in the plate. Just then the Deacon taps him on the shoulder and says, ‘You aren’t allowed in here. You got to go.’ The man doesn’t want to cause a scene and he leaves. But he’s very upset. He prays to God, asking God why this is happening. ‘Why won’t they let me in to that church?’ God answers him, “They’ve never let me in either.’
As the guests and I laughed, the man said, “I don’t go to church. You see why. That’s why this can’t be a church.”
“Well, you’re here and you just gave a great sermon, so this is church now.”
“Strangest damn church I’ve ever been in,” the man said, only now he smiled.