Summary: Man’s view of the church is often very different from the one Jesus demonstrated and Paul described.
I can stand anywhere in my back yard and see my church. It sits rather majestically at the apex of our little town. Its stained glass windows chronicle its founders. Inside, a huge chandelier hovers over our pew. I don’t know who appointed us to sit in that particular pew, but it must have been someone of great authority since no one in our family has strayed from it in my lifetime; except of course for those occasions when special services have attracted those who are not well-schooled in the “divine order.” On those occasions I’ve often exited my Sunday school class and found my ordained pew occupied. Other members have encountered the same problem. Some of them have remedied the inconvenience by leaving Sunday school early on Sundays when large crowds may disrupt the natural order.
When I got married in 1988 my wife and I did move to the seat directly behind my mother. I expect that one day I’ll be called to account for moving without securing the approval of whatever official designates those seating arrangements. In the meantime I feel somewhat more secure being a little removed from the center of that chandelier. Sitting beneath it has always made me a little uneasy; even after I found that it was not brass, as I had suspected throughout my childhood, but mere plaster.
That church has hosted the celebration of the major milestones of my life. I was baptized there in 1951; confirmed there in 1963 and married there in 1988. I wasn’t sure it would host any celebrations after that wedding. After all, our little church was not accustomed to harboring the Pentecostals that made up my wife’s side of the guest list. As it turned out they were well behaved (actually they were hard to distinguish from the “mainliners”) and the church has survived to host many functions since then.
In spite of its preeminence in my life, my church has not been a site of great ecumenical history, although it appears some prophecy did take place there in the early 60’s. Our pastor’s wife was standing at the back of the church as I entered one morning. Apparently I was wearing a new sports coat or something else that gave me a pastoral appearance. At any rate she was prompted to comment, “You know, I think you’ll be a preacher some day.” That may not be the exact quote. It wasn’t exactly good news to a boy in his early teens, and didn’t seem worth remembering at the time. Nonetheless, I suppose becoming a licensed minister could be considered a measure of fulfilled prophecy.
In the past twenty years that church has withstood two great spiritual battles. In the late 70’s our current pastor, apparently possessed by demons, moved the altar from it’s God-ordained position at the front of the sanctuary to a location between the pulpit area and the congregation. Fortunately, some of the church fathers who were around when God put the altar where he intended it to remain raised enough raucous that even the demons could no longer stand it. The altar was returned to its rightful position.
The other great battle occurred several years ago. The windowsills and frames were to be refinished. The contractor informed us that stripping and refinishing was out of the question. The woodwork would have to be painted. Great debate ensued over what color should be used. Some people thought they should be painted brown to preserve the appearance that had brought so much solace and comfort over the years. Others had visited different churches, (a practice we tolerate but don’t encourage) and had seen white woodwork. Those folks were certain that white windows would be most appropriate for a church as pure as ours.
The issue finally came down to a vote. The browns won. Nobody actually left the church over the issue, but I have observed that certain members turn their heads or close their eyes when passing those windows in order to spare themselves the grim reminder of their horrible defeat.
A few other controversial issues loom in the future. We’re discussing the possibility of having foot washing or spiritual healing services at certain times of the year. It’s a part of our current pastor’s effort to stimulate our spiritual growth. They’re no big deal really; certainly nothing as momentous as altar placement or the color of our woodwork.
Over the years the building has experienced several major renovations and a multitude of minor ones. A large number of pastors have left their imprint on building and flock. Average attendance has gone from 200 to 40 and back to 110. Yet, in spite of the many changes, the church stands today, on the corner of 10th and Church Streets, just as it did when it was first built over 100 years ago. One hundred years of experience has not moved the physical structure two feet in any direction.