Do not congregate near the lavatories.
I was recently on a plane and this standard instruction from the captain caught my attention.
For security reasons, they don’t like people lingering and gathering in certain areas of the plane. However, on a 14-hour flight, it’s pretty difficult to resist the desire to do so.
For health reasons, it’s good to get up and stretch, to stand for a while rather than sitting for the entire flight. Usually, there’s plenty of people around, and the line for the restroom can get pretty long. So, even though the captain forbids us to congregate, we tend to do it anyway. We linger–for our health, for our amusement, out of personal necessity.
Congregate. When I heard the captain use that word, my mind immediately jumped to another context.
Perhaps the only other time we regularly use the word congregate is in the context of church. We talk about being part of the congregation. In a sense, we refer to ourselves as “the gathering.” In truth, few titles could be more appropriate. Church is the gathering, the community, of those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
So why is it that we so rarely linger in our congregating? Surely, church is an opportunity where we are free to congregate, to gather, as long as we like. There’s no captain warning us to return to our assigned place. We can stand with others–for our health, for our joy, out of personal necessity.
Within the church, there should be freedom to stay–but how often do we spend our moments in our seats simply contemplating how quickly we can get out of them and beat the rush out the door to lunch? Perhaps sitting in a church and flying on an airplane are not all that different.
I attended a church that chose, one Sunday, to encourage that the congregation gather together in small groups immediately following the service in order to pray for one another. It was amazing to see how many people stayed and prayed! Many people lingered for 30 minutes or more praying for each other!
During the following week, I expressed my joy and excitement to the elders of the church, encouraging them that we should do something similar more often. The reply? “Well, maybe not all the time.” What?!?! Why not? Are we forbidden from lingering? Are we required to evacuate the premises as soon as the ending benediction and the final Amen? In truth, in my remaining time attending that church, never again did we receive the encouragement to linger with one another after the service. Never again were we given the freedom to congregate once the program was concluded.
On an airplane, we’re forbidden from congregating, yet we dismiss that prohibition easily in the midst of concerns for personal health and comfort. In the gathering of the faithful, however, we should be experiencing the greatest freedom to linger with our brothers and sisters–and yet we impose upon ourselves false necessities to gather our belongings and bolt out of the door as soon as the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign.