Faith Works 1-23-10
Just Calling (or Writing) Because I'm Gonna Be Late
Thanks to cell phone and texting technology, it's the easiest thing in the world to send a quick message or make a call to say "Hey, I'm running a little late today; be there in a bit."
This can be abused, no doubt (and we've all seen it, if not done it), but it's also an outgrowth of increased expectations about productivity and multitasking from work and activities, where people just assume we can cram more into a 24 hour day . . . and this is how we do it.
I work a weekday job where people showing up on time for appointments is a sign of either signal interest and attention to detail, or their ride had to drop them off way early for their scheduled time. And quite frankly, we all try not to assume anymore that being late is a sign of disrespect. Yes, I was raised to think and act that way, too, but today being late is "just one of those things," like wearing jeans or having a ring tone go off in a meeting.
Which creates some interesting questions in church and for worship services.
None of this is entirely a new question: when I was a kid, there was a family that was famously, legendarily, predictably late to each and every Sunday morning service or any special service for that matter. They came with almost punctual precision during the first hymn and nudged their way into a pew front and center.
One Sunday there was a city-wide power outage, and all things worked out so that the service began twenty minutes late (something that never, ever happened). And the family in question? They came in during the first hymn, twenty minutes later than twenty minutes late.
I'm regularly in a number of services, and so I say cheerfully and freely "this isn't about you" to anyone who wants to know, but – my distinct impression is that over the last five years the percentage of people who come in quite intentionally after the service has begun is on the increase, in some congregations pushing towards a quarter of what ends up being the total worshipping population.
Is this a problem? Obviously there are complications from this phenomenon, and not a few would say that late arrival is disrespectful to the worship leadership, to fellow worshipers, and to God. In some ways, this might be true.
I also know that it's not that long ago that wearing other than your very best clothes was considered rude and/or disrespectful to all of the above. For good or ill, that has changed. But isn't coming late different?
This is something I'm still chewing over. For some, coming late is a coping strategy: they welcome fellowship and interaction, but not right away. Latecoming buffers that. As a married person who often ends up sitting as a single in sanctuaries, I've gained a whole new appreciation for what coming into and joining in worship is like for a single person (short sermon: pews & much else is oriented so much at family groups that singletons feel very much an obstacle & a problem, not a part of the celebration; more to say later). Coming in late eases these issues as a solo.
And just as jeans became more accepted in general, lateness in society isn't what it used to be. Is it something the church is called to fight, or work through? Go ahead, look through your Bible for teachings on timeliness: the one note you'll find? Paul chews out some folks for starting before everyone is ready . . .
In an age ruled by the clock, and by getting things started on a stopwatch, maybe the "be ye not conformed to this world" has as much to do with worrying about timetables as it does to chastising the tardy.
And every preacher knows that some folks are going to leave at a certain time no matter what has happened of worth and value in the service, because "the roast is in the oven."
It's fascinating to run into those folks at Bob Evans' later in the afternoon . . .
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he would never say he's never been late. Send your tardiness excuse to email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.