On Oct. 27, members of the Emanuel Lutheran Church of Woodstock, Va., and the local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waged an epic 90-minute battle on a Virginia field.
But it wasn’t a fight over doctrine or dogma, it was a contest of bats, balls and line drives. It was the historic first game of softball between two congregations that learned an important lesson about service, worship and unity.
There are no tryouts on the team of Christianity. All are welcome.
Recently the two churches agreed to play a friendly game of co-ed softball under the inspired leadership of Lutheran Pastor Nathan Robinson and the local branch president of the Mormon congregation, Judson Rex. They set a date, chose a field and began spreading the word throughout their respective memberships.
Because our Mormon congregation doesn’t have a regular team, unlike the talented Lutherans, there were some concerns about getting enough players on a busy fall afternoon, particularly with Hurricane Sandy chugging our way. The fears were unfounded; our team had so many players we had to rotate in and out to give everyone a chance to participate.
To our surprise, we didn’t just have more than enough players, we also had family and friends who came to cheer on both sides. When we realized the Lutheran team needed one more woman to meet the co-ed rule, one of our ringers, Penny Dalton, volunteered to play for them. She more than pulled her weight at the plate and at second base, catching a tricky pop up Jackie Robinson-style and slugging like Babe Ruth during his prime.
One of our full-time volunteer missionaries, Elder Chanse Dahl from Elko, Nev., pitched the first several innings for the Mormon squad and Pastor Nate pitched for his side. We didn’t count balls and strikes, and everyone had as many chances as it took to put the ball in play.
There wasn’t one dispute or controversy, and though there were plenty of foul balls, there was no foul language. We enjoyed some good-natured ribbing, but the ribs were doused by countless compliments about long bombs and great fielding.
Every pitch, every swing and every rounding of the bases was the model of sportsmanship.
The Lutherans pulled away in the late innings and won 16-6 on the strength of several monster hits that soared so high they required clearance from air traffic control. After the final out, as is custom, the teams lined up and shook hands across the infield. That’s where most probably thought the day would end, but Pastor Nate had other ideas. He invited the teams and their families to reassemble for two quick closing prayers.
He prayed first, eloquently thanking Heavenly Father for the opportunity to play together and enjoy the beautiful day and the earth God has given us. President Rex prayed second, echoing Pastor Nate and recognizing the Lord’s role as the Savior of us all.
They were two good men, two prayers but just one God. I was touched at how both leaders ended their prayers in the name of Jesus Christ. With each “Amen,” the sweet presence of the spirit was as obvious as the wind that swept across the infield.
After the prayers we took a group photo, shook hands a final time and said our goodbyes. Some of the children stayed and took turns batting and being chased around the bases by their dads and siblings. No one seemed overly eager to let the afternoon slip into evening or slide the memory to the back of our minds.
When the parking lot finally emptied, I drove home and set my hands to other Saturday responsibilities. But my mind remained back at the ballpark.
In a divided world, for a few hours, two congregations witnessed the goodness that lives within all followers of Christ, no matter what pew they choose to sit on. Members of both faiths love their families, cheer for all, pray to the same God in the name of the same Lord and serve their brothers and sisters of all faiths.
Without question, obviously members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of Emanuel Lutheran Church do not share identical beliefs, just as neither faith agrees with every single tenet of other churches. But don’t we agree on more than enough to love one another, to respect one another and to serve one another?
One day the score will be forgotten and few will remember how many hits they had or what highlight-worthy plays they made in the field. Once again, no one will have counted balls or strikes because, in the end, it's only the effort that matters.
What will be remembered is who showed up to play and, more importantly, that as Christians, we know we’re all playing on the same team anyway.
And, honestly, we're playing for the same coach, too.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.
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