But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 (NRSV)
A couple of years ago, my parents took our family to Florida over spring break. There was excellent shelling, and we brought back sand dollars and other interesting shells. My sister-in-law found this amazing conch shell. We laughed as she carried it, like a baby, on the flight home (I was a bit jealous, of course). That’s a quarter next to the shell so you can see its size.
Last month, I was at St. Pete’s Beach for a conference/retreat. The hotel was right on the water, and I went for a 5-mile walk each morning on the beach. Because I get up early and walked so far, I was often the first one to be on long stretches of beach after the night’s high tide.
As I was walking, I came upon this shell. (Clearly, the shelling wasn’t as good there as it is further north.) It’s a well-formed conch shell but nothing to get excited about. Unless it’s your first time at the beach, most people probably wouldn’t even pick it up. It just wasn’t impressive.
But then I thought about the purpose of these shells. It’s not just a “conch shell;” it’s a conch’s shell. These shells are home to sea snails. Sea snails are born small and come in all sizes. A small sea snail wouldn’t live in the shell that my sister-in-law found. It’s too big. It seems like it could provide for the sea snails needs, but it just wouldn’t fit – and it wouldn’t be home. Likewise, a large sea snail couldn’t even fit in the one I found. It would be like trying to get Cinderella’s shoe on her step-sister’s toe. As someone who is not a sea snail, I may value these shells differently. But to two different sea snails, each represents the perfect home.
It’s true that Heritage Presbyterian (my traditional congregation) isn’t that big, and to those on the outside, not very impressive. We are a congregation of less than 100 people with about 40-45 in worship each week. But when you look at our inside, you see a church who was willing to let go of their buildings in order to accept Jesus’ invitation to “Follow me.”
We are a church where most of our worshipping congregation goes to another congregation to lead worship several times a year to raise awareness and funds for clean water in Africa. In 2016, we raised over $3,000 for Ribe. We are well on our way of surpassing this goal with nearly $2,500 raised at the first two services this year (which will be matched by another church).
Heritage makes lunches, quilts and serves dinner for the homeless. We participate in our denominational offerings, which make a difference locally and around the world. We meet for Sunday School, confirmation, book reads, and choir practice. It takes 5 minutes during worship for us to pass the peace!
Big churches are wonderful – and home for some people. Praise be to God! But “one size doesn’t fit all” for sea snails or people. We may not be big, and we may not look impressive to someone looking in from the outside – but to those of us who are here, we are home. And for those who may be looking for a small church seeking God’s heart, we are just the right size to be their home.
My small but beautiful shell is sitting on my desk, reminding me that every congregation is just the right size for someone. I look forward with great hope and thanksgiving to see how God continues to transform us: not for the purpose of being large but for being God’s heart in the world.