I grew up in the small town of Findlay, Ohio, which at that time had about 40,000 people. As a child, my mother would take me to get ice cream in the town of Jenera, which took a long time to drive to and was way out in the country. The attraction there was that they had Red Velvet flavored ice cream, which was apparently not available in Findlay at the time.
A few years ago, the memory of that ice cream place came to my mind, and I decided to try and find it on Google (I didn’t; if anyone from Ohio knows, is it still there?) Checking the maps, I realized that Jenera was precisely 12 miles from where we lived in Findlay. I couldn’t believe how short of a distance that actually proved to be; as an adult, I drive 22 miles to go to my secular job every day!
Distance is thus quite a relative concept, and this has been born out in our experience serving the Orthodox Christian community in the Greenville, NC area. Our parish is about 7 miles from the center of Greenville, and yet we have heard on more than one occasion from people whom we have invited to the Church that our parish is “kind of far” from the heart of town! Distance is relative, but is 7 miles really a difficult distance to commit to traveling once a week, let alone for a visit?
To put this in perspective, I drive 90 miles to serve the community, a founding lay family drives 67 miles (they wanted to have the parish in Greenville so it could minister to the maximum number of people in Eastern Carolina), another core family travels 26 miles, etc. Those just mentioned come to every single service! Yet strangely enough, there are still those who would rationalize their non-attendance based on a 7 mile distance from the center of town.
I know and they know that 7 miles is not the real reason they have not visited or are not attending regularly, so I just want to pierce through the excuses and say: if you knew that a buried treasure was 100 miles away, would anything stop you from going to recover it? Yet the greatest treasure of all—Holy Communion, the true Body and Blood of Christ—is only available in the Church, and this great gift is available for free each week. Besides Holy Communion, there is fellowship and many other blessings which are there, yet many take them for granted because it seems like there will always be a chance later to visit the Church or begin attending regularly.
The question I have for such people is: are you sure about that? Do any of us know what will happen to us today? Will we tell God that 7 miles was “kind of far?”