Charlie

EmptyChair

Other than Charlie Sheen, there are not a lot of “Charlie’s” I don’t like. It is a great name, which means, “free man.” One of my recent favorites is Charlie Skinner, the president of the news division in HBO’s series “The Newsroom.” He is witty, admired by his co-workers, and exhibits a gentle spirit.
I recently met another Charlie- a blonde, curly-haired, bike riding, glasses wearing kid, who lives in Plymouth. He is another Charlie that is hard to not like, and the meaning “free man” may be rather appropriate.
It was one of my first worship services at a congregation where I serve as Interim Director of Youth and Family Ministry. Worship had just begun, when an usher came over and tapped me on the shoulder. She said to me, “I just wanted to let you know there is this kid who just came in. He looks about 13. I asked him if he was looking for someone, and he said, ‘ Nope, just a place to sit.’ I don’t think he is a member.”
So I picked up my purse, and went over to sit by Charlie. I pointed to the seat next to him and asked, “Is anyone sitting there?” He shook his head and said “nope!” I introduced myself, and he responded, “ I’m Charlie, and I am new here.” “Well, so am I” I said, “I guess we have something in common!” Charlie cracked a little smile and said “I just decided to ride my bike over this morning.”
As the service went on, Charlie fumbled through the hymnal and tried to follow along with the rest of the congregation. He figured out the page numbers in the front but the hymn numbers threw him for a loop. So, I shared my hymnal with him and he sang a few words as he tried to follow along.
By the time the offering came around, Charlie was getting a bit restless and fidgety, So, I decided to quietly chat with him. I learned he was going into 9th grade, attended a charter school in Downtown Minneapolis, loves art and lives just on the other side of a nearby field.
After worship was over, Charlie asked, “Is there coffee? I love coffee!” “Absolutely!” I said, and I showed him to the coffee. On our way, I introduced him to a few people. They all shook his hand, with puzzled but gentle smiles on their faces.
After watching him load his 6 ounces of coffee with 3 creamers and 4 packs of sugar, he began to talk about how he always wondered what it looked like inside this building. I figured he must have learned to associate church with coffee somehow, so I asked if he attended anywhere. He replied, “Once in awhile, in South Carolina.” I responded, “That’s a long way to go for church!” He said, “ Its where my grandparents live.”
Soon Charlie slipped away to get in line for the fresh caramel rolls. He just happened to stand right next to a young girl, about his age.
I don’t know if Charlie knew the girl, but they laughed together as he was telling her stories. He quickly abandoned me and sat with her and her family. He moved around to other tables, and began talking with other youth. I eventually saw him slip out of the room, and into the hallway.
I stepped out to try and catch Charlie so I could say goodbye and invite him back. Unfortunately, I never found him. I am not sure I will ever see Charlie again, but he definitely left an impression.
Charlie only wanted one thing when he came into the sanctuary. “Just a place to sit.”
We are all looking for a “place to sit”. We are looking for more than a physical place to sit, as we search for a place where we find purpose. We often ask, “What is my place in this ________?” fill in the blank: Our work, our community, a team, a committee and yes, even our church.
This may be why Charlie left many people curious and puzzled that morning. His bravery to find his place to sit managed to get him up in the morning and ride his bike to somewhere new.
I wish more people had the courage to do this same thing.
On second thought, maybe they do, but they drive right by our churches.
I hope in some small way, Charlie found a place where he felt hope, peace, purpose and God’s presence. The core of what the church community should be.

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