This is a follow up to the INTRO of a series I’m sharing about my own journey about finding the “missing church”.
From the time I was born, one constant that could be heard every Sunday morning would have been a call from my mother to my room – “Come on Neal – get up – It is TIME to GO TO CHURCH!” Pretty much every week for the first 18 years of my life, my father ministered at a small country church in Northeastern NC. (He actually preached there 22 years before moving on to another church in another small town in NC – but once I went to college I started attending one closer to my college) The family would all get up – get ready – have breakfast together and leave between 8:30 – 8:45 AM. We would travel (by car – I’m not THAT OLD!) approximately 50 minutes ONE WAY to arrive at the little old white Church building nestled back in the woods of Roper, NC. We would always arrive well ahead of the rest of the congregation. Dad & mom would open up the building and begin to ready things for the day ahead. Some of the volunteers and workers would arrive by 9:45 or so, but the bulk of the congregation would show up just about 5 minutes till 10 AM. That is when things would get kicked off.
Everyone would gather in the main worship hall (aka auditorium) for what was called “opening exercises”, which was always comical to me since it never involved anything resembling a single jumping-jack or push-up, not even a hurdler’s stretch or lunges! There was the obligatory opening hymn, followed by any announcements and birthdays/anniversaries – which if there were any we would sing “Happy Birthday” (or whatever you sing for people with anniversaries) – but not just regular “Happy Birthday” it was the “church version” – you know instead of saying “Happy Birthday Dear Neal” instead we would sing “Happy Birthday God Bless You” – it was like a remix between your birthday and just finishing a huge sneeze! This would be followed by a closing prayer and then a dismissal to your Sunday School classes. I was never really sure why we did this whole routine OTHER than the fact that it gave those slack-tail families that were LATE TO EVERYTHING – a few more minutes to arrive “AT CHURCH” before the real deal – Sunday School – would begin, thus saving the embarrassment of having to walk in late.
Sunday School took place from about 10:10 till about 10:50 AM – then we got a few minutes break before the main worship service would start. This allowed everyone a transition from their classes to moving back to the auditorium or if you were in elementary age to move to your 2nd set of classes or what was often called “Jr. Worship” (so does that mean the adults worshipped God out front and then the kids worshiped Jesus – you know God Jr. – in the back???) I think this was also the “official” time frame to allow the deacons to go outside and take a smoke break before the difficult task of taking up offering and passing out the “elements” for communion – (yeah sure the chiclets of bread & shot glasses of juice aren’t very taxing – but heck if those cast iron trays weren’t a beast to haul around!).
The Sunday service started at 11 AM and typically ran about an hour till 12 Noon. Which involved a few hymns sung straight out of some old brown hard-back hymnals (although some had a sweet 2-tone look going on from where half of it stuck up out of the pew-hymnal rack and got bleached by the sun – if we didn’t remember to rotate every few months). There was a time for offering and communion as well as a time to mention prayer requests and have someone pray for those – or at least the ones they could remember – to be followed by one of the most common statements ever uttered to our Lord “and Lord you know all things and can remember all of the requests mentioned that I am unable to, so please bless those as well”. The monotony of the service only broken by the occasional dropping of a hymnal by the pianist onto the keyboard during prayer or communion. (I believe at one point they were on like a 3 week streak of doing it sometime during the service!)
Then my father would give the weekly sermon (and might I add that even if there were other things that took place that were simply mediocre – this part certainly was NOT – my father has always been a gifted Preacher in the truest since of the “old-school” preacher form. It was always deeply true to scripture, filled with solid challenge & application – and sprinkled with wonderful personal illustrations. I firmly believe God has given me the talents and abilities that I may also possess in this area but I believe a great deal of that was allowing me to grow up in the hearing of my father preaching many great sermons!). My dad was pretty cutting edge even back in those early days – he tried to use “object lessons” on occasion – if ya ever see me sometime – remind me to tell ya the one where he preached on what Hell would be like and the object lesson would have set off smoke alarms if only we had actually had them in the building – most definitely GOOD TIMES!
So this little glimpse into my early years better paints the picture of my most fundamental understanding of what “the church” was – unfortunately it mainly stopped with the idea that it was built around buildings, boards, and budgets – it was more about a place & a program. A place & a program that each week we were reminded that it was “TIME TO GO TO”, instead of being something more – that something I would find myself searching for more deeply in the coming years.I’d like to close each section with what I deem the PROS & CONS of this period of my life and belief about what the “Church” was/is.
A quick recap of the PROS: I was taught a Loyalty to this entity the “Church”, saw the importance of Family, Hard Work, Serving, the importance of gathering as a group to fellowship and worship, to appreciate the POWER of God’s Word and learning to obey HIS teachings. To learn the Authority of Scripture which ultimately later in life would allow me to challenge the views that I’ve held as to what “CHURCH” is and should be. (and bring me to a realization of some of the cons..)
A quick recap of the CONS: Thinking that the “be all, end all” on a Sunday morning (not to mention Sunday evening & Wednesday evening) was to “GO TO CHURCH”. I believe I walked away with a limited vision of the plethora of opportunities of the “church” that existed outside of those old wooden walls back in Northeastern NC. Getting hung up on “Church” as more about liturgy & language than it was a lifestyle.
But please don’t be scared off just yet – join me next time as I begin to transition from it being “TIME to GO TO CHURCH” in to the world of it being “TIME to GO DO CHURCH”.