It was the look that got me, the look he gave toward the altar after the offering plates were collected. That look wrenched my heart, wrenched all our hearts, but what could we do?
At Shepherd King our adult ushers collect the offerings during worship on Sunday mornings. But often when there are children in the service the ushers ask a couple of them to carry the full plates back to the altar as the congregation sings the doxology. A worship assistant waits for them in the chancel, receives the plates, and takes them to the credence table.
On Sunday Kathy was the worship assistant. Conner and his little cousin, Hudson, were chosen to bring the offering forward to the altar. Conner has done this many times before; he's 8 years old and quite capable of participating in various ways in the service. Hudson had helped once before, but at barely 3, it's harder for him to handle those collection plates with checks, bills, and coins in them. So as the boys came forward Conner held the plates and Hudson walked alongside him, hands empty.
As soon as they started forward Hudson began to lobby for carrying one of the plates. He reached for a plate, but as the bigger and more responsible one, Conner held them fast. Hudson veered slightly in front of Conner. Conner patiently guided his little cousin over to the side and continued walking. As they got closer and closer to Kathy, waiting for them at the altar, Hudson's appeal for a plate become more demonstrative -- reaching again, giving his cousin pleading looks, getting in front of him. Conner didn't waver, just brought the plates forward. He had probably been told to carry them both for fear that Hudson might drop one, sending checks and cash flying.
Finally they reached the front. A few feet short of the altar Hudson came to an abrupt stop. Conner continued on and gave Kathy the plates, then he turned and headed back to his pew. But not Hudson (who loves Conner more than anything and usually follows him everywhere). Hudson just stood there - his body turned partially towards the back, his face turned toward the altar, his head down. And the look on his face was heartbreaking. This boy used to be so shy he would not come to the front of the church even with Conner or his Dad. But now he stood there all alone with a look of dejection and defeat on his face. We all ached to console him.
Kathy had begun walking toward the credence table with the plates, but Hudson's expression made her pause. For a moment she didn't move. Then she went back, reached down and invited Hudson to re-give her one of the plates. He happily moved forward, took the top plate, lifted it just a little, and put it back again. Then he turned and walked proudly back to his seat while Kathy took the plates away.
Grace had come to life right in front of us. We saw a boy who felt left out, rejected, and dismissed be acknowledged, be welcomed at the altar - the home of God. There, in God's presence, Kathy shared God's kindness, God's tangible love, with a little boy. The whole congregation sighed. Our hearts were filled by that gracious gesture. And Hudson learned, again, that he is loved in this place, that he matters to us, that we see him and care for him as a child of God, our brother in Christ.