"Welcome to Starbucks. This is Jeremy. What can I get you?" I asked the next of a long line of cars at our drive-thru one gloomy Sunday morning.
"Hi, Jeremy, a grande caramel macchiato, please, but with three shots."
"That's a triple grande caramel macchiato. Please drive through."
The Sunday morning crowd was usually friendly, but even more so today.
"The person in front of you already paid for your drink," I announced.
She looked shocked, "What? Really?"
A twenty-dollar bill was squeezed in between her fingers and flapping in the breeze outside the window.
"Well," she said exuberantly, "I want to pay for the person's behind me then."
I looked over at the register to check the amount. "OUCH! They ordered a bunch of stuff. The total is $18.76."
Three of the other employees froze to hear what the customer would say. We had a good bet going about how long this "payin-it-forward" thing would last, and I was worried that Keesha might actually win on this car.
"I'll get it," the young lady said, "Can't think of a better way to blow a twenty!"
She seemed genuinely excited. I couldn't believe it, but I took her money and offered the change.
"God bless your day," she said, motioning for me to put the rest in the tip box as she drove away.
Eileen and Brian high-fived each other, as they were still in the bet, while Keesha rolled her eyes.
"So whatcha guys bettin' on?" I heard from the in-house side of the counter. It was Seminary Sam--a regular. He was never shy about telling us the latest subject he was learning at the Seminary down the road. Thus, the nickname.
Brian said, "Oh, about five cars ago, a guy paid for the person's drink behind them, and it's continued ever since. Some lady just laid down a twenty-dollar bill for the guy behind her."
"Wow! I picked the wrong day to order inside!" Sam remarked.
I yelled out to the others: "Got another one, guys!"
"What do you think all this is about?" Seminary Sam was just getting started.
Keesha chimed in with her usual skepticism. "Oh, you know these church people. They probably had some preacher tell them to do it just so that they could invite us to their church or something."
Sam did not even flinch. "Hmmm.why don't you ask them which church they are from as they pay?"
"Good idea." I said, turning back to the window. "Hey, where you headed?"
The man answered, "Off to church. First Baptist."
Keesha rolled her eyes, "Surprise. Baptist," she blurted out sarcastically while steaming milk.
"Keep me posted," Sam interjected before he went to his usual table.
Finally, as the last car pulled up, we realized the morning rush was over. So far we had recorded three Baptists, two from the Bible church, and two more from the Lutheran church around the corner. So much for Keesha's theory.
The lady in the car grabbed her soy Chai and cranberry scone from me as I made the announcement once more: "The car in front of you paid for yours."
She shrieked with excitement, "Oh, praise the Lord, that just makes my day! Who do I get to pay for?"
"I'm afraid you're the last in line, ma'am."
She let out a belly laugh and said, "Well, then, I'll just have to let you all split the bill instead then."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am. That's very nice of you. Where ya headed?"
"I'm off to praise Jesus, and I'd love to have you join me sometime. Anytime," she beamed.
The lady drove off before I could even ask her which church she attended.
Sam snuck up on us. "So, what's the verdict, people? Do we have a church conspiracy?"
"No," I said, "none of them seemed to know each other. The last lady didn't even mention where she went to church."
"Well," Sam replied, "Looks like you've just got a glimpse of THE church."
"THE church?" Keesha inquired.
"Yup, when you believe in Jesus, it's not about which church you belong to, but about WHO you belong to."
"Holy cow!" I shouted as I pulled out a folded bill from the tip box. "That lady left us a hundred bucks to split."
Brian commented, "Hmmm, maybe there's something more to this church thing after all..."
Seminary Sam asked for a refill AND a moment of our time. He was just getting started.