Amtrak & The Church: A Traveling Experience (A Mustard Seed Musing)

For our summer trip to see my family in Rhode Island, we decided that the train was a viable option and one we needed to explore for my family of four. It was cheaper than our normal day-and-a-half car ride (with tolls and a hotel night), and we’d be able to walk around the train throughout the day. Luggage was carefully packed, and activities prepared for our two kids. [Honestly, preparing entertainment for me, the motion-sick one, was probably the most taxing.] The day arrived and we departed before first light, arrived in time for our train, and leisurely settled in.

To save you the boredom of a ten-hour-trip’s worth of reading, I’ll say that the commute from the west end of Richmond, Va., to Kingston, R.I., was amicably easy. But then, disaster [at least, First World, traveling-with-kids, disaster] struck. We’d been told to prepare for our stop by the smiling, wet-behind-the-ears porter, who told us to head to the next set of doors, and we did. But as the train slowed down, we realized that no one in an Amtrak uniform was anywhere near us, and that all of the doors weren’t the same.

We hurried, dragging two kids, eight bags, and a car seat, to the same porter who’d been checking on us for hours, to see him shut the door, before wildly hitting the panic button next to him. [Let’s put aside the question, “why did you need eight bags for a four-day trip?
momentarily.] Apparently it worked as well as his walkie-talkie, and the train began trundling forward, then hurtling away from my parents standing on the platform. [We were picked up and the remainder of the trip was fine…]

Returning home, we again bundled up, boarded the train, settled in, and travelled along, happy and winsome. Until… it was time to again get off the train.

Because I’m a bit legalistic (!), I made sure we’d sought out the direction of an Amtrak attendant, as much to say “don’t forget us!” as “where do we get off?” This time, we were told to go to the head of our car, which we did, to have the porter tell us we were “good,” before realizing that she had moved a car forward to open the door. The same attendant watched us hustle to bump-bump-bump two kids, eight bags, and a carseat down the stairs without lifting a finger. The train ride was perfect, but the customer service and direction? Subpar.

With that said, I found myself moving toward my own “sphere,” that is, the church, and thinking about the ways that we often provide a “good ride” but often fails at customer service.

-When we use language in our worship that alienates someone else because they don’t know what it means, we give bad directions. Or when we expect someone to “just get it,” when it comes to liturgy we take for granted, like the Lord’s Supper or the Doxology, or when it comes to the times to stand, sit, kneel, or move around for moments like communion or greeting others (“the passing of the peace”).

-When we fail to recognize that not everyone is the same. Sure, we might expect an adult to be able to adapt and address the different situations in church, but do we expect toddlers to do the same? Do we look at single parents the same way we treat couples with kids? Do we address our situations that inhibit or interfere with those who have handicaps and their ability to participate?

-When we think that throwing up a sign here or there is the same as giving directions. Yes, there’s probably a sign outside your church that announces that you are a church, but does it say when the church meets? Are there signs inside directing people toward the meeting place for worship or fellowship or discipleship?  How do new people know where to go?

-When we think that the good news of Jesus Christ is just going to make sense without anyone explaining it, displaying it, or pointing the way. Yes, you can read the Bible and find applicable life lessons without an interpreter (assuming it’s in your language) but how many of us who do believe it to be true “got it” without help? Assuming others won’t need a helping hand is just… asinine.

Somehow, I doubt I’ll ever look at riding the train or visiting a new church the same way, now that I’ve been on that side. But the truth is, there’s more to this train analogy than Snowpiercer, right?


About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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2 Responses to Amtrak & The Church: A Traveling Experience (A Mustard Seed Musing)

  1. D. Lee says:

    Don’t forget church websites! Nothing more frustrating to me than looking up a church and reading, “Join us Wednesday, (Month), (Day), 2009 for our next big event”. Or “hiding” the church’s address and phone and meeting times—-make it inviting!


  2. Jacob Sahms says:

    Thanks, Dawn. Yes, our church websites are often not very helpful. Speaking of which… I think I need to go update mine 🙂


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