Monday, June 4, 2012

A Baptist Church Called Faith

"How hard it is to escape places! However carefully one goes,
  they hold you--
You leave bits of yourself
  fluttering on the fences,
  little rags and shreds
  of your very life."
  --Katherine Mansfield

(I was invited back to the church I had served six years from 1969-1975. I could not attend that special day because of a conflict. If you had driven by that church you wouldn't think much about it. It was tiny and non-descript. No big huge educational facility. Just a little church by the road in a subdivision. Yet--something happened there in that tiny space in those turbulent years that I will keep with me until the finish line. These are the words I sent to the church to be read that special weekend.)

I remember a tiny place with a slanted roof and folding chairs. I remember a concrete floor—no carpet. I remember student Frank Brown, now a distinguished professor, playing the piano. I remember how our first secretary had her desk in our dusty darkened hall. We had little space. I remember my office in a Sunday School classroom right off the sanctuary. 

 I remember Sunday School classes that had to meet in homes. I also remember a choir, unrobed singing gorgeous music Sunday after Sunday. I remember those Sundays when I was like a Kentucky racehorse in the stall—I couldn’t wait for my time to preach. They listened—and they stretched me—and made me work sometimes harder than I wanted. 

 I remember women Deacons and how many churches thought us strange. I remember the war years when the kids straggled in, some barefoot, protesting the draft and the war. I remember building our educational building with incredible faith and little money.

 I remember so many: Jim and Betty Bergman, Edwina Snyder and Bob, Bill Vessels and Stuart Sharp. I remember Tom Corts and Marla and Dan and Barbara and Sandy and Everett. I remember George Redding and dear Carolyn. I remember the Roses and the Davilas and the Ellers and Jenny Parker and Hallie Hymer, washing his car next door every single Saturday. I remember John and Darlene Drake and the Heisers and Evelyn Aulick and Martha and Dick Scudder and Lindsay and Judy and Gwen and Joe and Shirley. I remember Judith and Wallace and Dr. Mills and dear Millie and Mrs. W.B. Jones who never joined but came Sunday after Sunday. I remember Flem Smith sitting as close to the girls as he could get. 

I remember hippie weddings at the horse farms and all those students that passed through on the way. I wish I could name them all—but I do not have the time or the space.  I remember that painting that used to hang in the back of the sanctuary, which told of a time when the church reached out to a family who had lost a child. And how that bereft father painted that picture as his gift of thanks for what the church had done. If you squinted your eyes embedded in that painting was Jesus with his arms outstretched on a cross. I remember how we experimented on Sundays in worship—sometimes God walked down the aisle and touched us all. Some Sundays our experiments flopped and God stayed home. 

 I remember those weekends when we opened our doors to the whole town and showed movies and served popcorn because we had no theatre. I remember how good I felt knowing that my two children did not have the finest educational facilities but they learned what church was all about. All kinds of people, mostly accepting and loving and a gospel that had no limits—well, not many anyway. I called it my first Camelot and even today my heart swells with gladness and pride for what we did in that little place with folding chairs and a concrete floor on Sunday mornings.  

*I’ve left a lot of people out of this list not because they were not important but because my memory, unfortunately has faded since 1975. But for all those who slipped away into the mystery and to us all I leave the old Roman Catholic Prayer for the Dead: Into paradise may the angels lead them; at their coming may the martyrs take them up into eternal rest and may the chorus of angels lead them (and us all) to that holy city and the place of perpetual light.”

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