On a good Sunday, anywhere from 25 to 30 people attend our church. Normally, our attendance hovers around 20. A normal church would be panicking, but our members seem steady as the ship goes. Like them, I feel as if within our church’s walls, there’s a serene peace. It never leaves.
Before I came back to First Baptist, I bounced around. Knowing I’d eventually return to living in Blair, I visited two churches in town. One was a well-attended church out in the country. They had multiple services, a school, and a ton of classes. I attended for two Sundays incognito. I didn’t sign a guest book, and I didn’t tie myself down to any commitments. I was just there to sit, listen, and absorb the Word of God. The big worship was band was different but okay. The excitement was infectious at the beginning, but it got distracting after a while. Then, the preacher ascended the stairs. I opened my Bible prepared to learn something new about God, and before I knew it, everyone was getting up to sing the final hymn. The time flew by so fast, I’m not even sure my time spent there was real. The sermon not once mentioned the Bible. I did go back the next Sunday, and though the Word was quoted, it was so generic that I wanted to puke. The second church I visited was a similar experience. There weren’t as many members at this church, but it all felt so manufactured. The Word of God wasn’t the focus and learning from it wasn’t going to happen. Let’s just say this: there were many disappointing experiences before my eventual landing back at the church of my youth.
Earlier this week, I had to do a few things at the church. So, I drove up the alleyway, called my dog down from the front seat, wrangled her out of the neighbor’s yard, and made my way inside – towards the warmth. The building was silent and full of festive Christmas decorations, yet the space didn’t feel all that festive. But, it did feel peaceful.
A hundred years ago, there were over 200 people in our church. We’ve reduced size so much. With every church fracture over a petty issue came a damning split until a solid group of us remained. Sad, isn’t it? But God has a plan; I fervently believe in that. In fact, I have an uncompromising faith in that. That peace I’ve been describing to you – the peace that oozes out of every orifice in our church, is the bedrock of our congregation. I don’t know if that peace has always existed, or if it manifested in recent years. I do know that peace is from the Word of God; that’s the source, absolutely.
I think to myself this: how can we be heading down the wrong path if that peace exists? I’m not one to say God spoke to me, or that I had a vision. Those things have never happened to me; however, I do feel this peace at church. Clearly, and this is my opinion, I feel as if we’re being led. I know our congregation is small, but we’re heading in the right direction. We must be.
So, what sets our church apart? Well, we’re small. I know, I know – how does that amount to a positive? You don’t get lost in our church. The first time you show up, you’re a visitor. As our pastor says, the second time you show up, you are family. And that’s the God-honest truth. Another plus that stems from our size is this: we don’t really argue. We debate best-paths-forward, but we always trust in the adage that what’s meant to happen will happen. We believe in one another; we encourage each other’s progress. We swap books, stories, and laughs. I can honestly say that our entire church body is a family. I love them – each and every one of them.
I know every singly member in our church body. Can you say that? I know things about them and their lives – same with their family members. Can you say that? At your big churches, there are faces you don’t recognize. Not at first Baptist – no, sir. Let me tell you about our members:
Pastor and his wife, Carol, are two of the first people that come to my mind when I think about true disciples of God. And pastor has had me read a ton of messianic literature, so I know what the true definition of disciple is and what real, biblical disciples looked like in the ancient Hebrew culture. When I call them disciples, I mean it in every sense of the word. I lived a life of depression and anxiety for a few years, and I often tell people that my life changed for the better the night I attended the first bible study at church. It was pastor who led it and after a few sessions, I noticed Carol doing her own little study in her bible. She had a few other books laid around her, and she was completely absorbed in the Word. Even when pastor said a super cheesy joke that roused a few chuckles from us, Carol wasn’t moved. She was studying, and I decided then and there that I wanted to be like Carol. As for pastor, when he reads a passage from a book, he visibly becomes excited. He’s stumbled across something, and you know he’s going to research the heck out of the topic until both him and the texts are exhausted. I want to be like that. I want to be like pastor and Carol.
Then, there’s my favorite sisters in the world: Cindy, Susie, and Diana. I could sit at Diana’s feet for hours and listen to her stories. All three of them have the most nurturing quality about them, but don’t be fooled by their kind and endearing nature. They know their Bible. I think Diana and Susie, especially, have been to more bible studies than pastor! At our luncheons, they’re all three in the kitchen making sure that everything runs smoothly. I always meander into the kitchen to see if they need help, but before I ask a question, I realize that it’s taken care of. So, I meander my way back out. They’re dependable, loving, and just flat-out amazing, beautiful women. But what stands out most about them is their love for the Word.
Okay, this post is going to get long if I keep indulging each member, but here’s a few more:
There’s my favorite Kansas transplants – Phil and Carol. Their accent could rock me to sleep; it’s that beautiful. I imagine in the kingdom that Carol will be in charge of baking. Every time she tells me there’s ginger in one of her desserts, I faint in sheer anticipation. Her desserts are that good. More importantly, she’s another one of those pretty faces you can’t be fooled by. She knows her Bible – yes, she does. When I think of Carol, I think of a Godly person; she too embodies what I think a disciple should be. She’s amazing. And what about Phil? I’m not sure what to say about him. He does everything. He fixes little (and big) things in the church, and he does it while humming. Phil has the most creative ideas, and he’s a great person to discuss the Bible with. He, too, knows His bible. But Phil has taught me to ask myself another question in my studies: what is this saying that I can take away for my own life? I sometimes get too analytical and lost in the historical context of the words that I fail to see how a verse impacts me. That small oversight on my part has been huge in helping me grow as a Christian. I do feel a slight animosity towards Phil, though, because he gets to partake in Carol’s cooking every day, but I’ll let it slide…just this once.
Then, there’s Toni and Vic – another two of my favorites. Vic is old-school, and he’s one of dad and I's favorites to just sit and banter with. Vic’s dad, Walt, was a pillar (and will always be a pillar) in our church, and I can’t help but see a lot of him in Vic. Great people, but what makes Vic great is he’s a godly person. What does it mean to be godly? It means this: god is a priority; He’s the priority. As for Toni, she’s the real-life version of Wonder Woman. I’m dead serious. I don’t think there’s a thing she can’t do? She convinced me to eat chocolate cheese! Toni does so much for our church, and she does it without complaining. Why? Because we’re a family, and that’s what families do. She loves God, believes in God, and that’s good enough for me. You know what? She’s selfless, and that’s a biblical trait if I’ve ever seen one. “The meek will inherit the earth.” Translated: Toni and Vic will inherit the earth. Amazing people.
Fred and Shirley! They’re quiet and go about their business, but they’re huge to our church. I don’t doubt their knowledge of the Word, and I know in my heart that I’ll see them in the kingdom. There’s Carol Shotwell! I once was telling dad how much I love Carol, and I followed it with this: how do you not love Carol? It’s the truth. Her approachability, nurturing quality has a real Mary or Martha nature about it. Carol reminds me of one of the women in the New Testament: faithful, congenial, and a believer. Oh, and what about Red? He’s almost 100, yet he gets to church every single Sunday! How many people do you know who can say that? The number’s probably low. Red has the greatest stories, but more importantly, he’s lived a life dedicated to God. Church is His mental Sanctuary, and that’s an admirable quality. He’s a garden guru, a decent baker, and one of my favorite individuals to know; in fact, I’m honored to know him. He knows the Word, and it’s His foundation. I’d say that’s pretty biblical.
Kay plays our piano, and she makes the tenants of Christianity, of faith, and of spirituality comes to life. She cares deeply for others, and her smile could light up even the stuffiest of rooms. My dad is just a massive part of the bedrock of our church. I’ve watched him grow in his faith, reading books, quoting great Christian theologians, and it brings me to tears to see his progress. One of my other favorites is Shirley Moore. She’s the most humble, kind-hearted person I know, and she’s a keen intellectual. She’s traveled the world, and she knows the Word. And like me, she loves to learn. She asks the questions I’m too shy to ask, and we have similar struggles. The idea of faith preceding understanding drove us both crazy, yet I think we’ve also found our way to the other side, understanding the roles faith and knowledge play. She’s amazing, and I love seeing her every Sunday.
The point of all of this is for me to tell you how despite our church having only 20 to 30 active members, I feel as though we’re on the right path. God is leading us somewhere. We’re a family, and you can’t build a church on sand; the bible tells us that. Now, the point of that tidbit in the Word suits a different purpose, but for the sake of my claim, let’s let it stand, okay? If you have a flawed core, your church won’t do much of anything. In fact, it’ll disintegrate and fall apart. Our church has such a tight-knit, Bible-minded crowd, that I actually see a future, and it’s a bright one.
The peace stems from the people inside First Baptist. We don’t have large crowds. We don’t have modern video equipment. We don’t have strobe lights or a drum set. We have pews, stained-glass windows, big hymnals, and a gorgeous, black piano. You know what else we have? Each other and the Word of God. The peace stems from that. And to be frank, I can’t see myself in any other Sanctuary listening to a ten-minute sermon on hope or forgiveness. I see myself at First Baptist, listening to lengthy, history-filled sermons that move me to action. I see myself at First Baptist, always.