By Teena Myers
An unexpected, important meeting at 8 a.m. Sunday morning made attending my church unlikely. I perused a list of churches in the area of the meeting and jotted down possibilities for a first time guest experience. The meeting ended around 9:30 giving me enough time to eat a McDonald’s breakfast and drive to the closest option. Circling the parking lot confirmed all parking places were filled.
I would arrive 30 minutes after service began if I went to my second choice. The next two were nearby. Even though I had never attended a service, I knew too many people in those churches. I settled on the church that advertised an 11 a.m. service.
A sign near the road told me I had arrived at my destination. The church consisted of two buildings with no apparent parking lot. A small group of men stood outside near four metal chairs surrounding a bird bath. I wondered if this was their outdoor fellowship hall. I rolled down my window to ask if the lot next door was the churches parking lot. It was. I parked and approached the group again. “Where is the sanctuary?” A man pointed to the building on the left.
I opened the door and walked into the 1960s. Wood paneling covered the rear and side walls interrupted by a mustard yellow wall that glared at me from behind the pulpit. The misaligned tiles on the floor appeared to be the peel and stick variety. The burgundy carpet running down the aisles and platform looked fairly new. I looked for a bulletin. Some papers requesting email addresses lay on a table, but no bulletin.
A young man working on something near the front approached me. “Hi, I’m Chris,” he said as he shook my hand. An exchange of names being sufficient, he returned to his project. I sat on a pew near the rear of the church, waiting for the service to begin.
Suddenly, a child burst into the sanctuary singing “Ryan wants to smell your butt. Ryan wants to smell your butt.” The ringing of a church bell interrupted his chorus. A woman, I assumed his mother, rebuked him, not for the chorus he took delight in but for being in the church when he was supposed to be outside ringing the church bell. The sanctuary that could have held 300 filled with a total of 26 people counting me.
A young man with jet black beard and shoulder length hair adorned in a black suit and black shirt stepped behind the pulpit. His green tie cut through the monotony. He spoke about the beautiful weather and encouraged his congregation to spend some time outside today. Some of them were doing that when I drove up.
The mustard yellow wall substituted as their wide screen TV running announcements and other important information. The square on the wall flashed a list of three hymn numbers from the hymnal.
Chris seated on the front row turned out to be the media man. If there was a sound board, it was hidden from view. The pastor informed us the piano player was AWOL. We would sing the first and last lines of hymn #279 The Old Rugged Cross. That brought back memories. The first church I attended in the 1970s loved to sing The Old Rugged Cross. The music stopped before we finished the final chorus. Chris turned to face us with a sheepish grin.
“CD,” he said.
“We are doing the best we can,” the pastor assured us.
He called for prayer request. One hand raised. A mother suffered with cancer. We prayed and then sang hymn #121 Just as I Am. Billy Graham’s altar call song, but I did not sense this was a Baptist Church. Their website later confirmed I was correct. The current pastor’s grandfather started the independent church in the 1960s. When he died, his grandson became pastor.
Instrumental music played as ushers received the offering. The music abruptly stopped at an inopportune time.
“We are doing the best we can,” the pastor repeated.
A sermon title, The Workers Are Few, title replaced the Hymn numbers on the wall. We sang an appropriate song before the sermon began, # 477 Battle Hymn of the Republic. Unfortunately, the monotone clothes matched the monotone level of the pastor’s voice. I had a battle trying to concentrate on the message. The service ended exactly fifty minutes later.
The multiple buildings and size of the sanctuary suggested the church had thrived in the past. Grandfather had died five years earlier. The grandson either inherited a church already in decline or an exodus took place under his leadership. The small congregation and announcement on the website that the Bible Study was canceled suggested this church already had one foot in the grave.