By Teena Myers
A friend told me about her church located in a small community fifteen minutes from my home. She could not remember the name of the church. “Freedom is in the name,” she said.
“Just tell me the street address,” I replied.
“It’s behind the gas station.”
There was only one gas station in the community, making it enough information for me to find the church. On the way to the grocery, I did an advance reconnaissance mission. A fairly large church tucked away on a residential dead-end street close to my house surprised me. I drove into the parking lot to turn around and saw lights were on in what appeared to be a fellowship hall. A feeling of lightness, warmth and friendliness swept over me as I watched the activity inside.
A month later, I found an opportune Sunday to visit. My friend was attending a concert on Saturday, giving me the expectation that the late night would dissuade them from church attendance on Sunday morning. As I anticipated, their car was not in the parking lot. On my way to the entrance, I saw my friend’s mother exiting her car. I had wondered, but did not ask, why my friend who works at a Catholic church attended a Protestant church. The presence of her mother answered that question.
I had met my friend’s mother a year earlier and hoped she would not recognize me. The smile on her face when she saw me told me she did. I returned the smile, but continued walking hoping to create doubt that I was who she thought I was. She made no attempt to talk to me. I suppose my indifference accomplished my purpose, or she now thinks I am a really rude person.
I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful sanctuary that matched as well at that one did. Brandy wine caladiums adorned six pillars on the platform, and various places on the walls and balcony. Much of the trim in the two toned carpet and around the altar matched the burgundy in the leaves. The padded chairs and carpet were matched as close as possible. Arctic white paint covered the walls.
A young woman led the congregation in familiar songs. The song leader handed the microphone to an elderly woman. She explained that most of the congregation was traveling due to the holiday weekend. Then assured us that God would do something great regardless of the small number in attendance.
Why does a small attendance have to be explained? Why do church leaders think we need to be encouraged if the house is not full? Do we need the encouragement, or do they?
She asked us to stand for the confession and offering. I liked the confession that went something like this:
I am a joint heir with Jesus and more than a conqueror. I am a doer of the word of God and a channel for his blessings. If God be for me, who can be against me? I am blessed coming in, and I am blessed going out. My enemies are fleeing before me, and God has commanded his blessings on my storehouses. He has opened his good treasure, and I shall lend and not borrow. I dwell in the secret place. I have his protection and provision. God is my refuge, my fortress, I am not afraid. No evil shall befall me and no plague shall come nigh my dwelling. God is giving his angels charge over me and they are bearing me up in their hands lest I dash my foot against a stone as declared in Psalm 91.
I had planned to put the visitor card in the offering, but the offering bag was not passed down the pews. People brought their offering to an usher standing at the altar. Instructions had not been given to deposit the guest cards in the offering, so I was reluctant to go forward and needlessly wondered what I would do with the card. The woman making the announcements noticed the new face in the small crowd. She came to me as the congregation sang. Her husband had retired as pastor and their son now led the church. She apologized for not acknowledging me during the announcements. Apparently, the usual practice was to collect the visitor cards before the announcements were made, so she could acknowledge visitors. She took the card from me and promised to call me.
Her son greeted us and introduced the guest speaker. He had asked his son-in-law, who served the church for fourteen years but now lived on the east coast, to speak. His daughter’s family left the church the previous year when her husband received an unexpected job offer at one of the largest electric companies in America. He spent the first thirty minutes of his sermon giving a testimony of God’s intervention to save his marriage. He also admitted to being spiritually bankrupt when he served as youth pastor. “God can use a devil to accomplish his work,” he said.
The tidbits of his story left gaps for our imaginations to fill. I gathered his secular job required him to be away from home for long periods. They were doing well financially, but his absence strained his relationship with his wife and children. Calling himself a devil suggested he may have been involved in other unsavory activities better left unspoken. A trip north with his wife to celebrate an anniversary led to a long conversation about their marriage problems. During dinner, they wrote on a napkin where they were in their marriage and where they needed to be.
God intervened with the job offer that sent them to a new city, and a new church. The new job guaranteed he would be home every evening. The difficult move transformed his life and his family. Each of them found a place of service in their new church that fit their personalities. The ten items they wrote on the napkin of where they needed to be were satisfied. Except for missing their extended family, they are very happy.
His testimony was much more interesting than his sermon on perspective. I remember the testimony, but I don’t remember the sermon aside from a bit of history he revealed about the church. The church has been on the dead-end street for 60 years. Occasionally, people will attend and exclaim, “I never knew this church was here.”
I liked the church. My first impression while sitting in the parking lot was favorable. The close location to my home definitely puts it in the pro list if I were in the market for a new church. I’d have to return and hear the pastor speak before making a decision. On the con list, I question the lack of discernment that allowed a spiritually bankrupt person be the youth pastor.