'Most chaotic three minutes of the year'
That's my label for the annual photo of churches affiliating with the Illinois Baptist State Association at the IBSA annual meeting. Each year, the pastors of a dozen or so churches line up across the front of a hotel ballroom or church sanctuary for a wide-angle shot where no one is looking in the same direction, someone's eyes are closed, and there's a blur on the right side because someone moved during the picture.
It's fun, it's joyful, but it's never been a good photo.
This year, the chaos was doubled (at least). Twenty-four new churches joined IBSA officially during the Wednesday evening session of the meeting, representing a variety of people groups and languages. So, our photo team's instructions of "move to the left" and "everyone look here" only seemed to add to the confusion.
And it seemed that each pastor and church had a support team or sponsoring congregation there to capture the moment, resulting in a logjam of people near the altar steps where everyone was supposed to line up for a formal portrait.
After several minutes of trying to arrange everyone, those of us trying to take that formal portrait could only throw up our hands and laugh along with everyone on the stage. It was the kind of moment you only experience with family. Everyone knew it was chaotic, but the joy of being together, and welcoming new members to the family, transcended the language barriers and general confusion.
The best pictures actually came after everyone stopped looking at the camera, when the pastors and leaders bowed their heads there on the steps to pray together. In the stillness, you could see the diversity of the group, and the fellowship they felt for one another.
One pastor wore traditional clothing of his country. Another put his hand on the shoulder of the person in front of him. The group reflected the differences in any family, and the solidarity the members feel because of a shared calling and commitment to, well, act like family.
This year's family photo isn't going to win any contests for composition or lighting. If you look closely enough, you can probably tell it's not perfectly in focus. It's a bit of a mess, as far as pictures go. A glorious, holy mess.