Recently I rediscovered a toy, a plastic church I’d played with when I was a small boy. It had been so long ago that I had completely forgotten about it. And I wondered if everything was the same.
So, just as I had done so many years before, I removed the plastic roof and looked inside. As always, the whole place seemed to come alive with tiny plastic people. They weren’t exactly the same, though. Some of the older ones were gone. And there were some new young ones. But they were mostly the same plastic people I had put there. Except, of course, they had kept pace with the times. In the rear of the sanctuary, a group of college-age youth was planning a Sabbath afternoon meeting. The leader, a bright-looking, nervous young fellow, rubbed his plastic hands together and said, “Well, I guess I have somebody for everything – except prayer. Any volunteers?”
“I guess I’ll have to do it myself this time. Again. Now let’s all try to be here on time. Remember what happened last time. Now let’s all go downstairs and get something to eat.”
In the rec room a meal was being served to members of the youth club, “The Young and the Restless,” as it was called. They were eating, laughing, and having a good time. They hardly looked up when the club leader and his committee entered.
One young fellow, his plastic freckled face contorted into a wide grin, was telling a joke about Martin Luther and the pope. Everyone within hearing range thought he was hugely funny. As indeed he was.
In the choir room a mixed octet was practicing with excellent harmony when one lady, her plastic red hair glowing like fire, suddenly stopped singing. Everyone looked.
“I’m sorry!” she burst out, “but I just can’t sing with Mrs. Brown. Somehow our voices just don’t harmonize!” Then she stamped out, followed by her red-faced husband, the first tenor, their plastic shoes making an odd sound on the floor of my little plastic church.
“Well!” said Mrs. Brown. “Well, I never!”
But Mr. Brown, cooler, said, “Let’s form a sextet and sing something else.”
In the pastor’s study the church elders were discussing how to raise funds for the annual offering for the poor.
“People just don’t seem to want to give any more,” Mr. Gray – who had just earned a great deal of money on Internet stocks – was saying. “They think they can leave the whole program in the laps of the richer members.” He leaned back in his posh black plastic chair and eyed Dr. Black.
Dr. Black, who at least passed for the richest elder, said, “That’s sooo true, Mr. Gray. Everyone wants to leave the burden on the backs of the richer members. We need something that will appeal to the ordinary member. I mean something that will really appeal.”
“I have an idea!” said Mr. Green, the youngest elder, a man definitely on his way up, his plastic face shining brightly with expectation and enthusiasm. “Why don’t we sponsor a raffle! It’s surprising how much money a raffle will bring in. The large Catholic church on the corner sponsors a raffle every year. And every year – bingo! – Just like clockwork. They give away a new Lexus donated by one of the dealers in town. Doesn’t cost the church a cent – except for advertising and incidental expenses, of course.”
“We-e-ell,” said Pastor White, a conservative man with a florid face. “This is a new idea to me. We’ve never sponsored a raffle before. This is a conservative church, you know. And I doubt that a raffle would be accepted by the denomination.”
“Someone has to pave the way,” broke in Mr. Green, sitting on the edge of his plastic chair.
“Maybe it will work,” said Dr. Blue, who usually says very little. “It does have definite appeal, whereas giving just to help someone in need has gotten rather old, wouldn’t you say? The idea of winning a new Lexus appeals to different motives entirely. It should be a lot more successful. After all, the money will be going to a worthy cause — us. What do you think, Dr. Black?”
“Oh, I’m all for it,” responded Dr. Black. “Fact is, I’ve been thinking the same thing myself. For a long time. I’m all for striking out in new directions. What this church needs is more spirit. We need to bring the ordinary member back into the picture. It’s too much strain on the richer members to have to raise nearly all the money nearly all the time.”
I was about to replace the plastic roof and walk away when I noticed a woman standing alone in the narthex. She obviously was not yet a baptized member, wearing, as she was, glossy lipstick, heavy mascara, white eyeshadow, pearl necklace, finger rings, dangling earrings, . . . .
After all, my little plastic was a conservative Midwestern church. And the ladies wore only a touch of makeup. Well, maybe some wore wedding bands, but never a big gaudy ring like this one, and never ever decked out like this one . . . .
She looked somewhat out of place standing there beside the great stained-plastic window with its intricately jeweled design, all alone, with the conservative, plump, formal church ladies parading past. A few eyed her – as though she ought to be “spoken with.”
Most just ignored her.
I was glad. Because — turned away from them as she was, and facing the stainedplastic window as she was, hands folded on the ledge and eyes closed as they were — she couldn’t see them anyway.
I knelt there over my little plastic church for a long long time — watching her —before I finally, sighed, replaced the plastic roof, and walked away.
She was praying.
Originally posted on old site in 2011. ©2011 by Max Gordon Phillips