I grew up in as Southern and as Baptist a church as you could find. Deep in the heart of Georgia. My church was a mill church--where the folk there (except the Superintendent) were poor but with enough pride to keep our heads up. In the fifties of course we were white and if you had polled the congregation you would find that most, if not all had voted for Franklin Roosevelt because he had helped them in a time of great need.
But it was there I first heard the name Jesus. Sunday was one of the most important days in my week. We went to Sunday School and church. We went back in the Evening to something we called Training Union. And believe it or not we even had Sunday evening worship. Something good and whole and very fine happened to me somewhere in those growing-up years. I received a lot of affirmation in that church.When as a nine year old boy I walked down the aisle one Sunday night and said yes to the faith walk--I can still remember that evening. Like Martin Luther years and years ago said when he had a bad patch: "I have been baptized!"--my baptism took--even though back then I did not even know who Martin Luther was.
When I said I thought I had been called to the ministry they rejoiced with me, asked me to preach. That first sermon (like many others I have preached) was dreadful. But they cheered me on. And the Scriptures I learned and the hymns I sang--and the faces that surrounded me are all with me until this day. When I went away to college they sent me money. They gave me an expensive book they thought might be helpful. And when I was ordained in that same church--they laid hands on me and whispered that they would pray for me. I have no doubt they meant it.
|photo by Haldean Brown / flickr|
A little later I discovered my best friend was gay. I hardly knew what that meant but I shocked. Little did I know how very hard it must have been to stay locked in a closet away from his family, his church and friends like me. He never told anybody until much, much later. I received a call one night saying he had been murdered. So the scales of understanding something of gays began to slip off m eyes.
I met Catholics in High School that were as strong a believer as I thought I was. I had been warned by my Baptist brothers and sisters that they probably would go to hell. I learned this was not so. So slowly my world view expanded. Almost all my teachers along the way were female. Our grade school principal was female. Most of my teachers at church and school were female. And one of the teachers who listened to me in High School and pointed the way to a bigger world was, of course, female.
I discovered that Jesus was not white or American or could even speak our language. The door
cracked wider. Until my evangelical heritage of white and male and Jesus just did not seem to go far enough.
I took poor people to the Jewish Doctor in Southside, Virginia. And he loved them and treated them with dignity--and took little money from them--he knew they had so little. Reckon, I wondered if he might just make it into the Kingdom--he was so kind and loving.
|photo by Merl Green / flickr|
|photo by Weirs Coetser / flickr|
I love the church. I have served it for over fifty years. And across the country and world churches of all stripes--evangelical included-- lift burdens and reach out in love and provide hope and help to many. I ache at all those who have given up on the church. Atheism is on the rise. It is understandable when we link the universal gospel to some political party or to some flag. We are bigger than this even though many have joined the bandwagon of culture over Christ.
A Church secretary of an inner city church went into the sanctuary on Monday to collect the bulletins and whatever else had been left behind. As she moved through the sanctuary she saw words scratched on the inside of a pew. Looking closely the word said: "I love this church." Some little child had left his or her mark for all to see. Even after all these years--I still try to scratch in those words wherever I go. But the words have nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats.
|photo courtesy of KOMUnews / flickr|
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com