Merlin stood five feet tall and almost as wide. His wife perched a foot shorter. Both of them could be found every Sunday morning waiting at the open door of the Baptist church with their hands out. Not to ask for anything – but to give something.
We started going to Minor Hill Church when we still had to wrestle our six year old into her dress and shoes while driving down the highway at forty miles an hour. Church started a new phase in our lives; hopefully one that would stick. We’d met the pastor and all the deacons and their wives and a few other young couples but didn’t really know anyone well enough to feel comfortable.
“Let’s sit towards the back. We were too far up front last time. I think the pastor could see my guilt when he preached about gossiping.” I reached for my Bible while grabbing Shelby’s church supplies.
“Let’s slip in the side door. I hate shaking the pastor’s hand after everyone else has.” Kevin cut past several cars while we hurried to keep up. Just as we neared the door, it opened as if on cue.
“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. I’m Merlin and this is Edna.” A short arm reached forward engulfing Kevin’s own in a firm grasp. Merlin pumped up and down as he looked my husband in the eye. Kevin held on while Merlin shared a piece of scripture and ended with a joke that even tickled our daughter. My turn came when his wife reached up for a hug and praised God about her latest blessing. She told me how pretty I looked and offered to pray for any of my needs. All in all we must have spent ten minutes with them by the time we broke away and found seats…up front.
Within minutes of settling into our pews, I noticed Merlin strolling up and down the rows shaking hands with every person fortunate enough to have an aisle seat. I nudged the woman sitting next to me. She dropped her bulletin long enough to turn my way.
“Does Merlin do this every Sunday?”
“Do what?” I could tell she was eager to get back to discovering what song selections had been chosen but I pressed on.
“Greet everyone like that. I thought it was the ushers’ or deacons’ job. He wasn’t on the list the Pastor gave us.”
“Oh, that’s just Merlin. He’s our unofficial greeter. He and Edna live nearby and open the church to turn the heat on in the winter and the air on in the summer. He just loves to go around and shake hands.” Her duty done, she turned to her hymnal in preparation for hymn #302.
Our habit stuck. Every Sunday morning, for fourteen years, we entered the church through the side door. Like clock work, Merlin let us in – greeted us – and offered us a tidbit from Jesus’ life. He didn’t wear a suit jacket to mark him as an official greeter. He never got up front to perform the Lord’s Supper with the other deacons. He performed his self proclaimed job week in and week out without any public acknowledgement.
We later moved to Florida and visited a new church. I wanted to get involved right away so I signed up for the Greeter’s class. With fifty other extroverts, I was shown how to shake a hand properly – squeeze the elderly hands lightly, keep mints in my pocket to avoid the dreaded bad breath greeting, and say good morning while looking past the shoulder in preparation for the next visitor. I didn’t go back.
Merlin’s methods pulled at my heart. My hero at the door had given me all the examples I ever needed on how to greet.
Several years later, after a long absence, we returned to Miner Hill church for a Christmas Eve service. Old habits never die. We headed for the side door. It flew open as we were two steps from the handle. Merlin stood waiting with Edna in tow. Fifteen years of greetings flooded my memories. But this time Merlin didn’t reach out with his hand – he reached out with both arms for a long hug.
“Welcome home friends.”
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