I go to churches like some people go to bars. Churches are full of interesting people and spirits (just not the liquid kind) and I enjoy the experience. I'm a member of a Baptist church; I'm awed by the liturgy of the Orthodox church; I'm in a lively discussion group at the Presbyterian church; and I play bridge with the Methodists. I attend sacred harp music conventions, and I often sing along with my JSU Gospel Choir CD in the car while pretending to be Myrtice Collins. Whenever I'm asked if someone "goes to my church" I generally just answer "yes" because based on my habits and the size of this town there's a better than average chance that we've worshipped together at some point.
I visited St. Paul CME Church for the first time last Sunday. My friend Rev. Pearl Williams delivered an inspiring sermon from Psalm 121. She encouraged us to "life up our eyes to the hills" and seek the glory and power of God. It was a day of celebration for the congregation as they marked the first anniversary of their paston Rev. Gloria Haynes. Let me tell you, that woman can sing! Her rendition of He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need was simply breathtaking. (I gave my Myrtice impression a rest and impersonated Rev. Gloria on the way home that day.) The musical accompaniment on the keyboards and drums for the service was provided by two young gentlemen who can only be described as clairvoyant. There was no sheet music that I could see, yet they played in perfect sync with the choir, the sermon, the meditation time, and the solo. I was amazed by their talent and timing. I received the warmest of welcomes and many invitations to return to worship with my fellow believers at St. Paul's. I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to do just that.
I started a blog in February 2011 to write about participating in the Lent observance of St. Luke's Orthodox Church. Afterwards, I decided to continue it by writing a companion summary to my weekly Bible study at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. At the present, we're studying the book of Jeremiah. Here's the link....
Rick Bragg wrote that his very first visit to a church coincided with "dinner on the grounds" yet he had never felt drawn to any kind of religious organization. My daughter said that indeed, if dinner on the grounds couldn't do the trick, then this was probably a person who would never be involved in chuch. This same daughter wondered as a child how the church ladies could be talked into bringing potluck dishes for her wedding reception. She also wanted her grandmother to be a bridesmaid, so maybe she wasn't exactly a budding Martha Stewart.
When I was a child, I thought it was called "dinner on the ground" because the kids usually grabbed a plate, literally sat on the ground outside to gulp it down and then ran off to play. I enjoy dinner on the grounds in a more leisurely way now, and I thought I had the event pegged, but I saw two things last Sunday at First Baptist in Jacksonville that I've never seen before. First, there was a tray of sushi nestled among the deviled eggs, sweet potato casseroles, sliced home grown tomatoes, and fried chicken. I have nothing against sushi; I've just never seen it grace one of the long, heavy laden tables of Southern Baptist delicacies that make us forget that gluttony is a deadly sin. Then, as everyone who's been to at least one of these events knows to do, I deposited my plate on the table, picked up my sweet tea, and headed over to get some of the banana pudding before it was all gone. That's when I experienced the real shock of the day --- no banana pudding! How did 177 Baptists show up to eat and not a single one of us thought to whip up some banana pudding? Thank goodness for once-saved-always-saved or I would worry that this was a sign of falling from grace. We all ate too much and left happy, but at least one of us made a mental note to dig out MawMaw's recipe and make sure that such a thing didn't happen again in my lifetime.
One of the perks of being a "grown up" is being able to have ice cream for supper if you want to. That's what happened last night at Jacksonville First Baptist Church when Rev. Andy Bumpus invited the choir to come share ice cream and every imaginable topping before putting the finishing touches on our patriotic worship service for Sunday. I love the hymns of the armed forces even though it's a bit odd to be singing "at 'em boys, give her the gun!" in the sanctuary and it's downright humorous for a bunch of Baptists to be belting out "hail to the foam." Practicing the songs is unnecessary for me though, because when the veterans stand to be honored as the hymn of their branch of the military is played I'll be too choked up to sing. I'll especially miss Mr. James Brown, a veteran of the Army, Navy, and Air Force who passed away earlier this year at age 96. Everyone will be thinking of Ben Tomlinson who is recovering in Tampa, FL from injuries he sustained in Afghanistan. The service men and women, young and old, from World War II and other conflicts right up to the present will stand and remind us of the cost of freedom. America isn't perfect, but it's still the greatest country in the world. This weekend as we enjoy the privileges of prayer and worship, shooting off fireworks, singing, eating BBQ and ice cream, and tossing horseshoes, there are a lot of folks who deserve our thanks. We should definitely have more ice cream suppers with our friends to help us stop and remember just how blessed we are.
The Star's idea to add community bloggers to its online version is a great platform for sharing stories. In my 10 years as a Jacksonville resident, I've met an assemblage of interesting people who hail from everywhere and have lived all over the world. I've met most of them in church; some in my own First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, and others in various congregations around town. I was going to church before I was born, and was a member of the Wylam Baptist Church "Cradle Roll" before my eyes were even open. I've given myself the title, The Church Lady, because I grew up admiring and wanting to be like the women in my church. Since I notched my 50th year of continuous church membership last year, I hope that my credentials will give me at least a nominal membership in their illustrious ranks. Of course there's another image for those of us who remember Dana Carvey's Church Lady on Saturday Night Live in the 80s. Well, while I was growing up in church I knew her too. But that's just church. It brings out our best and worst, our righteousness and our selfishness, and our laughter and tears. It's a thriving element of our community and I'm so thankful for the framework it's provided for my life. I'm looking forward to an online discussion of how faith defines us and shapes our lives.