Sunday, December 8, 2013

So...What Should a Church Be?

I've been going to the Triple Seven Baptist Church for a few months now.  Some months I revert to old, bad habits and hide away from the world when it's been a rough week (or month).  But I've been trying hard to go more regularly and I've noticed something.

Not only has my spiritual life gotten better since I've been attending church regularly, but it's gotten deeper since I've picked (or been picked by) this church.  I feel closer to God, I feel like I am held accountable for my actions, and I feel deeply supported in the face of a rough few months.

Everyone is going to look for something different in the church they call their own. They'll want different things in their worship ministry, they'll want a different style of leadership or discipleship, they'll want more (or less, or deeper) mission work. It's all very subjective.

The following is what I think makes a church become our home, what makes a church matter.

What Makes a Church a Home

It isn’t the sign that we see from the street,
And it isn’t the numbers of people we meet.
It’s not if the walls are brick, siding or stone,
It shelters all ages, from infants to grown.

Not the size of the group nor the name on the door
The style of the song or the length of the floor
The tempo of music or the language of love,
We all do one thing – learn of our Father above.

So what makes a church, now we know what it’s not?
What makes it our home and the truth that we’ve sought?
What brings us together, week in and week out,
What, in the end, is what church is about?

My church knows me by name and they welcome me in
They offer warm hugs and they call me their friend.
They don’t look sideways at the clothes that I wear,
Or the car that I drive or the style of my hair.

They look to the Bible for the truth that they seek
Their attitudes humble and their prayers for the weak.
They ask for God’s blessing, and they ask for His grace,
They offer so much for all who enter this place.

Hearts of service and love, devotion and praise
A pastor who loves God all the length of his days.
If I need a shoulder, they will offer much more
And rejoice with me also when my heart’s not so sore.

A church is the love that our Father sends down
Shared freely and deeply, and passed all around.
A church is the Truth, about things giant and small
A church is the Hope that God offers us all. 

 (Casey Fogle, November 2013)

Monday, September 2, 2013

The End of The Year

I had planned all along to end this blog at the end of one year, once I'd written 52 posts and visited 52 churches.  What I hadn't anticipated, but should have known, is that sometimes when we plan, God laughs.

I had one blog entry all ready to write, about a church here in town, when I was about to head to my home town to visit my mother.  She had some house issues to settle, and I looked forward to visiting with her, just us.  I figured I'd be fixing some things, and perhaps helping her make some hard decisions about her elderly dog.  Surely I'd have time to write, and I could wrap up a church visit while I was there.

It was to be a 6-day visit.  I left one day shy of a month.

Mom was much more ill than I could have imagined.  The cooler was kind of a non-issue, taken care of in a stopgap way as I convinced her to go to urgent care, then the doctor, then the Emergency Room.  Rehabilitation followed.

My year finished up with some unexpected visits.

To the church where I first met Jesus, El Camino.  Some parts of it haven't changed a lot since I was a child, despite several new buildings and initiatives.  I sat next to friends and prayed for Mom, who I already knew was not feeling well at all.  She fell twice that night, and was unable to get to her feet.

To the church where I found comfort on Saturdays while my husband was away and we lived "at home" for a year, Pantano Christian Church. I checked three times to make sure it was even the same church at all; everything felt different. The pastor came and talked with me a bit before service, and I appreciated his warm welcome and friendly attitude...but even if I moved back home this would not be my church. It felt dark and club-like, instead of airy and filled with light as I'd remembered. At that point, she was already in the hospital.

To the chapel at St. Joseph's hospital.  I sat in the hushed silence, alone but not lonely, and breathed out prayer for Mom and her doctors and for anyone who needed it in that space.  Mom was already feeling better by that time, but I knew she couldn't go back to the house where I'd grown up.  Big changes were coming...was I strong enough to help her make those choices?

To the chapel in Villa Maria, where we sang hymns and people in wheelchairs rattled tambourines.  Mom's face lit up at the chance to sing, though her strength was not back quite yet.  I felt hope, and comfort.

To the small, unobtrusive chapel in the Atlanta airport, as I tried to build my business and rebuild my heart after an intensely difficult month.  There were three gentleman, boys really, saying afternoon prayers.  I've never known silence so utter.  Once I was home, we planned to help Mom move.

At the end of two months, we had moved my mother into a wonderful new apartment, and said farewell to so many memories that my heart is still healing.  I know she, too, was wounded by the summer and I wish I knew how to help her through.  She lost her home, her beloved pet over whom I whispered prayer and love as she breathed her last.  I lost my childhood, and the sense of comfort that is brought by being able to "go home".

Once home for good, I could only think of one church where I wanted to be.  One place that knew my name, knew my story, and welcomed with open arms anyone who came to visit.  I think anyone reading this blog knows by now that I'm talking about the Triple 7 Baptist church - and perhaps everyone else knew before I did.

I wanted a large, busy church.  I have somehow ended up in a mobile home in the middle of what seems like nowhere to this city girl.

I wanted boisterous, bouncy music.  And lots and lots of it.  I sit in church and hold a sweet blue Baptist hymnal that comforts me.

I wanted modern - I somehow have old-fashioned values shared over breakfast rolls and coffee.

At the beginning of this year, my list was long and my desires were plenty.  And then I was told, "You're staying, of course," to a birthday luncheon for a man I've begun to count as family.  If my heart is hurting, if my heart is happy, I think of this church first and I want to share with them my news.  I pray for them, and I know they pray for me.

In the end, it didn't matter what I wanted in a church.  It didn't matter what I thought I needed.  God knew my heart, as He always has, and He found a connection and a place for me.  He found me that second family that I had imagined would take years to create.

In the end, I thought I'd pick a church from the many that I'd visit.  I thought I'd read over my blog posts and remember the pluses and the minuses and the wonderful and sometimes bizarre moments of this year.

In the end, I thought I'd choose.  But in the end, my church has chosen me.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

All Together Now

Praying all together, voices raised
The volume rising, rising
Rising to the ceiling,
Buoying me upward
Filling my heart
So nothing is there but prayer
Words, muted sound
Calling to God
Praising His name.

All together,
Voices woven as a tapestry of grace
And up, and out,
Growing and swelling,
Then dying down until
Only the breaths of the faithful
Can be heard.


I'll admit, when I went to the Potter's House, I really had no idea what to expect.  It was downtown, and from the website it looked like many other non-denominational churches. Lots of information about a relationship with God, and I felt like they understood that many of the people coming to the church would be wounded inside.

I did, also, get the impression it was what I call a "Come As You Are" kind of church.  So I, feeling fatigued from a very busy week, wore a nice top and, yes, blue jeans.

I will not do that again.

There were two people in the church in jeans, and one of them was a teenager. Most women wore dresses (I saw only two women in slacks) and many of the men had blazers.  It wasn't formal, just nice. And I felt really out of place. It's okay, though, because not one single soul seemed to look at me sideways or in any way other than welcoming.  Even the usher at the door with his very nice Sunday-best suit.

The music was uplifting and energizing, and I knew many of the words to the familiar songs.  For the songs I hadn't heard before, melodies were relatively simple but nice to the ears, and it was easy to keep up and sing along. Acoustics were really, really nice and I had no issues hearing whatsoever without feeling deafened.

After the worship team had led us in song, it was time for prayer. We learned who was deployed, who had new babies, whose family needed prayer, who had health issues. I got a sense of community, listening to these unfamiliar names. And then we were invited to close our eyes and pray.

And that's when it started. This church prays out loud, as a group, voices rising and falling and filling the room. It was pretty intense. A week later, I am still not sure exactly how I feel about it. It was something new to me, and it is something I think I'd have a hard time getting used to. I grew up with the idea that prayer was an intensely personal and thus private thing,

But, writing about it here, the poem above just flowed. I have often felt carried along by the prayers others have offered on my behalf; there were entire years I am not sure I'd have survived if it were not for the intercessions requested by friends and churches. The Army is not an easy life. It was a unique experience to hear the prayers said aloud, and envision all of those friends and families and organizations being filled with the spirit as it flowed in that building on that Sunday morning.

Church is about coming together, and praying together felt a pretty nice addition to that community of souls. I, for one, still feel buoyed by it.