Prime the Pump

Front of sanctuary at Sabra United Methodist Church in Sabraton, WV

The pastor shared a story about priming the pump.

A weary, thirsty traveler comes upon a water pump in the middle of the desert. A note attached to the pump states that in order to get any water out of the pump, it has to be primed first – which involves pouring water into the pump. Luckily for the traveler, there is a bottle of water buried in the sand just for this purpose.

The deal is that the whole bottle of water must be poured into the pump, or it won’t be primed.

The question, of course, is whether the thirsty traveler will decide to drink some (or all) of the bottle of water to slake the immediate thirst. Or will they risk pouring the precious water into the pump on the promise that – if they do – there will be plenty of water for them and to refill the prime-the-pump bottle for the next thirsty traveler.

This week’s stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here) was Sabra United Methodist Church in Sabraton, West Virginia.

I picked this church because a high school student I know was going to deliver the message.

As it turned out, his message was rescheduled for another time. I didn’t hear a sermon by a teenager, but I did experience worship with a congregation that is full out priming the pump.

I found a congregation that welcomed and included and nurtured the children and youth in its midst.

I found a small but engaged congregation of multi-generational believers where young and old were actively involved in worship and in the life of the church.

My friend didn’t give the sermon but he did lead the congregation through the order of worship.

A four-year-old respectfully and reverently carried the offering forward to the altar during the doxology.

A baby, sometimes asleep and sometimes awake, reminded everyone of the joy of new life.

Older members prepared and brought forward prayer blankets.

Members and visitors of all ages came forward to tie some of the knots on the blankets.

Voices of all ages rang out to share prayer requests and sing hymns.

This congregation was priming the pump of Christian witness.

Everyone, regardless of age or ability, was included and invited to actively participate in the worship service.

This congregation poured the full bottle, so to speak, into the worship pump.

Young people were empowered and also saw that their parents and grandparents continued to play active roles in worship.

Visitors were welcomed and engaged.

Nobody was there to casually observe or be entertained.

When we come to worship just to slake our own immediate spiritual thirst – we fail to prime the pump.

When we aren’t willing to actively participate – or if we stand in the way of others being able to actively participate – we fail to prime the pump.

Only when we pour in our whole self – and allow others to do the same – will we, as the church, prime the pump for God’s living water to pour out into our lives.

It’s how the children and youth know they are already part of the church – now – not the “future of the church” hustled off to some other place during worship.

It’s how the parents – or adults with no children – know they are part of the church – now – for themselves – not just because they are bringing kids to church.

It’s how the elderly know they are part of the church – now – still – not in the past, not pushed aside, not forgotten.

As I worked on writing this post, I considered possible photos to include.

A park near our home has a small water pump next to one of the picnic shelters, so I decided to pop down there and take a picture of it.

I took a couple photos of the pump, but they were not all that good.

Water pump


Then, the children came.

A group of small children – about the age of the little girl who carried the offering to the altar on Sunday – ventured over to me. They told me all about the pump.

They told me water comes out of it to drink – and you can attach a hose to it.

One little boy said he’d show me – and with a hands-on demonstration he pumped the handle and water gushed out.

Then all the kids jumped in the puddles of water.

Turns out, it’s not about the pump.

In a way, it’s not even about the water – the physical water, anyway.

It’s about the people who will gather around the pump…looking for water.

Looking for conversation and relationship.

Looking for a chance to be hands-on.

Looking for God.

It’s not about the pump.

It’s about priming the pump.

It’s about priming the pump by pouring everything in and trusting in the promise that – when we do – the living water will appear.

Water pump with several children holding their hands under the spout

Photo by Sarah Lowther Hensley



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