We grabbed our Bibles out of the backseat and began walking. Slowly, deliberately we ambled into a large, old brick building. We were greeted, given bulletins and a handshake. In front of us, the entryway opened up into a large room full of men, women and children. Strangers. The plaster was separated from the brick walls and the stability of the building, in general, seemed...shaky. People from all walks of life milled about. They walked, talked and congregated together. A congregation. A family. The first one I would know as an adult.
There were two aisles, both sloping downward toward the stage. The room, having been built in a time when teachers taught with no sound equipment, echoed. The walking, talking and clamoring for seats filled my ears. Something behind the pulpit caught my eye. A dove. Wooden and mounted on the wall. I made a mental note to look into its meaning. Two, now archaic, tv screens sat on opposite ends of the 100-year-old sanctuary, where the lyrics to worship songs would scroll. The pews were shallow, the seats of which had recently been upholstered with green. The aisle creaked when we walked upon it...down to an arbitrarily chosen pew. I opened my bulletin and the words stared back at me...black and printed...etched from this day forward onto the surface of my heart:
- We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their over-emphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.
- We believe that the only true basis of Christian fellowship is His (Agape) love, which is greater than any differences we possess and without which we have no right to claim ourselves Christians.
- We believe worship of God should be spiritual. Therefore, we remain flexible and yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our worship.
- We believe worship of God should be inspirational. Therefore, we give a great place to music in our worship.
- We believe worship of God should be intelligent. Therefore, our services are designed with great emphasis upon teaching the Word of God that He might instruct us how He should be worshiped.
- We believe worship of God is fruitful. Therefore, we look for His love in our lives as the supreme manifestation that we have truly been worshiping Him.
My breath caught. My heart lurched. Tears welled. As a new believer, I didn't know much. But I knew these disctinctives were Biblical Truth. I knew God was here. This old building with the uncomfortable seats and the echoing and the amazingly wonderful beliefs printed...it felt right. It felt real. It felt like home. We sang. We worshipped. Spirit-filled worship, complete with an acoustic guitar. (I'm of the belief that NO worship is worthy of the name unless it includes an acoustic guitar.) We opened our Bibles and I was taught the Word of God differently than I had been taught anywhere else. The book of Matthew...one verse at a time. Deeper. A sinner teacher...not perfect...but gifted. And my new husband and I...sinners...not perfect...but touched. I began to sprout.
The strangers became family. Some of them, close family. We became fixtures in this delapitating church and we grew together.
Things changed throughout the next couple of years. The tv screens were replaced with a big screen on the wall above the pulpit and speakers and a projector were suspended from the very high ceiling. I worried about the safety of such a placement until someone informed me that a brave soul had hung from it and, therefore, it had to be perfectly safe. I was never fully convinced but as far as I know, it has never fallen. Two small buildings were purchased across the street for further use and we were working on obtaining an FM radio station to take the gospel to people who couldn't come to us.
I loved my church. I loved everything we stood for, everything we were about, everything that was so much different from the more "traditional" churches in town. I loved that a man could walk in off the street in flip-flops and cut off jeans and hear the gospel. I loved that the tattooed sat with the straight-laced and that the redeemed drug addict was no different from the redeemed man of pride. I loved seeing the alcoholic rub elbows with the counselor and the business man shake hands with the prison inmate. I loved to see the evidence of a redemptive God at every turn. I loved the worship. I loved how alive my Bible was becoming. And I loved my family.
Through a series of events, it all began to unravel. The believers were at odds with each other. People were angry. Hurt. Sad. Frustrated. The family began to split up. Finding new homes. New families. It felt like divorce to me. And I, desperate to cling to what I knew to be true and real, hung on for dear life. My husband, who is steadfast in his demeanor and scarcely quits anything, hung on for dear life. We prayed. And prayed.
One rainy morning, we grabbed our Bibles from the backseat along with the children I had birthed in the last 5 years. We walked up the sidewalk...into the old building...through the entryway and into the large room with all the people. We marched down the oh-so-familiar staircase, transporting two girls to Sunday School. We climbed the stairs again. Back into the room...we sat down...third baby in my arms...and a lump in my throat. We glanced around the room and were faced with a stunning realization. This place...the creaks, the smell, the speakers hanging from the ceiling, the uncomfortable 100-year-old pews...it was home. Here we sat...in our home filled with people. But our family was gone. Almost entirely gone. Divorced from this place as we still sat waiting, in futility, for someone to come home.