I spent three hours ridding our church kitchen of ants Tuesday afternoon. I hope "Thou Shalt Not Kill" does not apply to the thousands of ants the rain brought inside, who made a superhighway to the Friday Night AA's Fig Newtons. Those ants are sneaky. I found them congregating in the strangest places. I mopped and mopped, wiped and rinsed, rifled through all the cupboards, looked in every drawer, tossed open boxes of cookies, tea, sugar. I stuck all the unopened ant-free food in the refrigerator, which meant I had to clean that out first, and boy was there a lot of expired moldy junk in that frige. Finally, I set out the bait traps and left the church exhausted, but pleased by my thoroughness.
This isn't the first ant invasion. And I admit I haven't been back to the kitchen since, afraid of what I might find. Last summer there were different ants, smaller ones who made their way from everywhere in the kitchen to our couches and chairs, finding plenty of crumbs to feast on. I vacuumed the cushions and couch and crannies for hours. Twice.
When I got home Tuesday night, exhausted, back aching, my husband asked why I didn't find someone else to do the job, it's not really part of my pastor job description. But, really, who can I call to clean up ants? I doubt there's anyone at church, or even our paid custodian ready to leap at this form of Christian service. And even if someone agreed, s/he might just point a can of Raid along the trail and be done, leaving many more stealthy ants in their hiding places waiting to mount another invasion.
So, I groaned and moaned when I heard about the ant problem and I put off going over to clean a few hours longer than I should have. But, the truth is that I enjoyed it in some strange way. I thought of it as a gift to the church that most of the congregation will never be aware of, but they'd certainly notice if I didn't don my gloves, ply my mop, rinse my sponge. I did my best.
One person's ants are another person's preaching. A nightmare, or an opportunity. Willing service or performance under duress. Prayer or penance. It's all about the attitude we bring to it.
The Work is a Prayer
The usher, her work is a prayer
greeting the visitor with a bulletin, a smile and the seat next to hers.
The custodian, his work is a prayer
Windexing the stained glass until Jesus’ feet gleam
The preschool teacher, her work is a prayer
smoothing felt sheep onto a flannel board
while telling the children that with God, we are never lost.
The little boy, his work is a prayer
coloring Jesus’ robe blue and his beard red with stubby crayons.
The pianist, her work is a prayer
singing loud How Great Thou Art
while she hammers out the melody for the congregation.
The liturgist, his work is a prayer
reading from the prophets, the Gospel and Paul
words for a particular time and a particular place with meaning for us today.
The communion steward, her work is a prayer
holding the loaf while hand after hand reaches for a piece of new life.
The friendly visitor, his work is a prayer
bringing the juice and the bread to Alma Louise at Driftwood House every
The treasurer, her work is a prayer
counting the offering, and writing checks for mission giving and disaster relief.
The youth leader with the bad back, his work is a prayer
camping on the fellowship floor of a Sierra church during the annual ski trip.
The pastor, her work is a prayer
holding hands with Enrique, who is dying of cancer and leaving two children behind.
The seminary intern, his work is a prayer
leading a Bible study on the book of Judges using new methods he learned in grad school.
The youth group president, her work is a prayer
emptying her savings for a ticket to Angola to build a school with volunteers in mission.
The prayer chain coordinator, his work is a prayer
dialing again and again for Susan, whose mother had a stroke.
The hospitality circle, their work is a prayer
brewing coffee and lining Oreos on a plastic tray for the conversations after service.
The man in the pew, who has been coming for a month, his work is a prayer
inviting an old drinking buddy to the AA group that meets in his church.
The lay speaker, her work is a prayer
preaching the message of hope alongside the clergy.
The casserole committee, their work is a prayer
bringing pans of lasagna and tuna surprise to the new parents of twins.
The shelter volunteers, their work is a prayer
ladling soup and handing out sandwiches to the homeless in their town.
Her work is a prayer and his work is a prayer and their work is a prayer.
Your work is a prayer and my work is a prayer and our work is a prayer.
We bow our heads. We kneel at Jesus’ feet
and utter the prayers we carry in our hearts.
Then we roll up our sleeves, pull on our boots,
join the many who are one,
and set our hands and feet to the work of prayer.
Poem originally written for the CA/NV Board of Laity Partnership in Ministry Training, Oct. 2, 2004