Last Tuesday, I exercised my democratic rights and voted in the Washington State and King County general elections. I wanted to participate in what might be the last time I’d ever join my neighbors in voting at the polls. Our county is moving towards all absentee voting for future elections, making communal polling a nostalgic experience of the past.
My polling place is an elementary school a mile and a half away from my home. As I walked closer to the polling place, I saw my neighbors returning from voting or going there themselves. Typically, it was a mother with a couple children in tow. I loved seeing all of us heading to the same destination for a common purpose.
At the polling site, I witnessed the community interacting. I saw the poll workers greet their neighbors with hugs and handshakes. People came in with their new babies, and soon, they had a huddle of voters around them, meeting the new addition to the community.
When it was my turn to cast my vote, I took my ballot to the row of white partitioned voting booths and removed my “cheat sheet” out of my purse. The night before, Dan and I had read through the voter’s guide and visited all the candidates’ web sites to determine how we would vote. At first, I’d tried to memorize whether I was going to vote “yes” or “no” on referendum number 67, initiative 960, or resolution 4215, but I realized that I could never keep all of that straight. Dan reminded me that it wasn’t a test, and I could take along notes. I still felt a little sneaky copying down all my answers.
Before I left the polling place, I signed up for the mailed ballots. As I handed the poll worker my form, I realized that he too was losing a meaningful part of his life. Without any polls, there aren’t any more poll workers. We talked for awhile about this possibly being the last time the community would gather here. He seemed sad, but he wasn’t sad for long. A neighbor showed up with a new baby, and he was off to say hello.
Even though I’m losing one form of community involvement, I still have the most precious one. I’m thankful that each week, I get to join my community members in worship at church.
Just like at the polling places, our community regularly heads there with a common purpose, but instead of voting, our purpose is to worship God together. We also gather and meet new members of the community and catch up with old friends.
There are also some more complex parallels, in that what we do there is both private and corporate. We go to the polls to cast our private ballots, corporately. The polling places go to great lengths to preserve the private nature of the experience, with the partitions and the voting booths, but we’re never far from our neighbors and others who are casting their ballots in the exact same manner. Church is also both private and corporate. At church, our worship is a private affair of the heart. It’s between us and God. However, God loves it when “two or three come together in [Jesus’] name,” so we worshop corporately as well (Matthew 18:20).
I hope that with the loss of the polling places in Seattle, people will seek what they are missing in a church community. If you hear anyone reminiscing about the “good old days” of going to the polls, why not tell them about the ways a church could fulfill those same desires?