Sunday, March 10, 2013

Transient Worship

Two weeks ago, I drove by a little storefront church I'd been curious about for a couple of years.  "The Homecoming," proclaimed the sign. "Welcome Home!" was on the door.  I made a note of the worship times, and added it to my list.

Last Sunday, I was out of town and in need of a more private kind of worship.

This Sunday, I rose early despite the change to Daylight Savings time, and drove to The Homecoming.

The parking lot was empty.

The door was dark.

The service times and contact information, once so easily read on the window, were now scraped clean.  Only the slightest edge of white gave a hint to the fact that anything used to be there at all.  There were still Bible verses framing the entrance.

This isn't the first time. Usually, though, I will discover the church has closed (or moved, or disbanded or...) as I do my pre-Sunday research. There is a church I was interested in next door to a church I was attending, and I wanted to see when they held service-- but no one was in the parking lot and there wasn't even a contact phone number on the sign.  Usually, I can find an alternative.

Today, my alternative was another storefront church just down the street. I hadn't researched it recently, though, and lo and behold, even the arts academy that shared its location has moved to a different spot.

I do wish they'd add a sign like this.

This got me thinking about this area, and about the transient nature of any military town. Our population is one that is constantly changing, and church congregations are anything but steady and permanent. While it is true that many people retire here, and some people work here and want to stay in the area, many more are here temporarily. We who are connected to the military serve at the needs of the government, and often those needs change very quickly. We make friends, we get jobs, and we find a church home -- only to receive orders and have to start all over again.

It also got me thinking about the transience of worship.  So far I have the following churches on my list, either that I've attended or I plan to attend or was unable to attend: a church in a mobile home, two in storefronts, two in schools, one in a metal building that seems very temporary, and one that is held in a city park (except during inclement weather).  Any church has the concern of keeping parishioners, and bringing in enough funds to keep the church doors open and the lights on-- but these churches seem to be so much more temporary.  It must be tremendously difficult to make people feel as though they have a church home -- when the home has to be broken down every day after service, when the doors are only open on Sundays because it's a storefront the rest of the week, when the option of service is gone if it rains.

I don't know how they do it. Obviously, the ones I saw today...didn't. It's kind of sad.

At the same time though, Matthew 18:20 says, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them."  There are times when we can commune between friends.  Or we can share the Gospel with our children when they ask a question.  We can share our testimony, if we are brave enough.  And we can certainly "pray without ceasing".

How may I pray for you, since the physical church was closed today?

This is the first song I ever learned in sign.

This song always makes me feel good.

P.S.  The Homecoming?  They moved down a street or two and they hold service in the Christian radio station building.  I'll be there next Sunday.  :)  And to think I got laughed at tonight for calling them and leaving a message.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Comfort When It Counts

Anyone who has been reading this blog since last July, when I began it, may have noticed that there was one church that worked its way into my heart right away.  Regardless of where I go for Sunday service, during this journey or ever after, this church will remain my family church.  I wrote about them after my second Sunday for this project, in "Welcomed Like Family," and I prayed for them in "Lord, the One You Love is Sick".

Sometimes, in the midst of anything big, it is more important to find peace and comfort than it is to continue that project.

We are a military family, and sometimes the military likes to throw monkey wrenches into plans.  Because my husband is so close to retirement, we were hopeful that we could avoid the bigger twists and turns, and just finish out the last couple of years.  We are awaiting more details, and anything in the Army can change in an instant, but last week we found out that they aren't done with us yet.  In so many ways, last week was a rough one.  (And no, it's not a deployment.  Just difficult.)

I awoke that Sunday, planning to go to the church down the road.  It's a tiny, storefront church, and I've been curious about it.  But my heart was hurting.  And I needed to see Pastor Franks and hear how he was doing, to let him know with a hug how much he means to so many people.

Before I knew it, I was driving down that curved road again, past the horses and the nodding, winter-browned trees.  Sometimes, church and family call to you with a voice that cannot be ignored.

There is absolutely nothing in this world that matches the comfort one feels when people are so genuinely glad to see you.  Hugs, smiles, waves from across the small room -- but the touch that meant the most was when Pastor Franks held my face in his timeworn, gentle hands, and blessed me with his eyes.

I was originally going to title this blog post, "The Are Nots," because that was what Pastor Franks talked about.  He used 1 Cor 1:27-29 to begin talking about how God will use "the foolish things to shame the wise...the weak to shame the strong".  He will use the "things that are not to nullify the things that are."

Pastor Franks said "I don't want to be like someone else.  I want to be like Jesus." He said he blesses no one, but the Holy Spirit does-- God is the Blessor.  (In my heart, I was thinking, "Pastor Franks, the Spirit sure flows through you pretty easily.")  He told us of the "fullness of spirit," which is different from the gift of the spirit given to all Christians.  The fullness of spirit is, I think, the ability to let yourself be so filled by God that the rest of your human self simply gets out of the way to let it work.

I'm not there.  Most people aren't.  But the idea that God would use those who are "uncultured, uneducated," such as D. L. Moody... (Go ahead and look him up-- I did and was stunned at his accomplishments.)

Pastor Franks said one other thing that really hit home for me.  He spoke of a person who, when others saw him coming, would inspire them to say, "Here comes Jesus."  There was a Christ-like light about this person.  Pastor Franks spoke of how he wanted people to say that about him, and how that should be what we aspire to.  He asked this question, "Why not?  Why wouldn't people say that about you?"  I found a new goal that day in the Triple 7 congregation.

This was the amazing song Tara sang.

Since that emotional, heart-healing Sunday, I have missed two Sundays in a row.  The first, I could barely breathe because my allergies were acting up so much.  My husband, who has been so totally supportive of my churchgoing, said, "You need to stay home and rest."  The second, this past Sunday, I spent with one of my very best friends in the whole world.  She is not military connected at all, and for some reason that was really important this weekend.  Just to get away from work and Army and, well, everything.

This Sunday was also the weekend after my birthday.  This week I have truly thanked God for the gift of one more year.  One more chance to get it right, one more time to say all those "thank you's" and "I love you's" and try to be someone worthy of the word, "Christian."  Happy birthday to me.