Sorry to be a bit tardy today. This one has taken me a while to write. The more public our decision becomes, the less turning back room we leave ourselves.
We have changed churches after 35 years.
It wasn’t an easy decision and we didn’t make it lightly. We didn’t get mad at anybody we just got tired of driving an hour and a half every Sunday morning. Some Sundays we had to leave the house so early it was still dark outside. We’ve been doing it for seven years and finally it just seemed time to change.
Yeah, it was our choice to move out here to the boondocks. But where else can you wake up in the morning to watch a beaver swimming across the pond right outside your window? Or listen to the peaceful clucking of hens waddling around in the yard? Or the sound of the coyotes tuning up in the woods as night falls? (OK, that isn’t so peaceful to the chickens.) But if we had to give something up it was going to be the long drive. The icing on the cake is that there is a great Presbyterian church in town and I already have a few friends there.
Beaven and I joined the church in Garland 35 years ago on my 30th birthday. We had just moved to Garland for Elizabeth to start the first grade. I had to make the decision to leave the church I was born into—the Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church in Dallas. You can see we’re not church hoppers. When we join a church it’s for the duration. I’ve had about eight pastors in my life, usually great ones, but I’m of the opinion you’re going to church for Jesus, not the minister. We’re not the type to get mad at the minister and leave. We’re the kind of people who lean into the nurturing of a loving church family and stay to soak in all the love we can as long as we can.
I am a particular fan of the concept of Church Family. They helped Beaven and I raise our daughters. Our kids and grandkids always knew the church building was a safe place and that’s probably the first place where they exercised their independence: going from one room in one building to another without their parents, knowing that even when they couldn’t see them and maybe didn’t even know where they were, there would always be someone they could trust to help them with whatever they needed. I often refer to church as the place where you can always find someone to loan you a quarter for the Coke machine. It’s one of the unofficial rules: we loan quarters, we buy Girl Scout cookies and all the other school fundraisers; we go to weddings and baptisms, emergency rooms, hospitals and funerals.
We are part of each others' lives.
So it has been in this congregation over the past 35 years. We clung to each other after September 11th and when Chad got his legs blown off in Iraq. We prayed our guts out when Evan rolled into Bagdad in a tank. And we went to a party for him to celebrate when he came home. We’ve ordained three of our own into the ministry and have an unbelievable four waiting in the wings.
The thought of leaving the Garland Church is like a little death for me and I’ve need a couple of days to roll it around in my brain, to mourn it a little.
The church was my comfort during some of the hardest times of my life. I came to FPC Garland as a Motherless Daughter overwhelmed by mothering my own daughters, building a marriage and working full time. It was my support system while I was figuring out life for myself and making some major course-corrections. Most of the time the people in the church didn’t even know what was going on inside my mind but they loved me in just the right way.
At my worst times I was angry at God and a friend told me it was OK to be mad at God, that God could take it. I found out that if I could just force myself to go to worship, just get myself into the Sanctuary and sit down; if I could just make it to the first hymn I would be alright. The sound of the congregation would wash over me like a healing balm and everything changed.
I vividly recall one moment when one of my older friends took me by the shoulders there in the church kitchen and, looking me straight in the eyes, told me she was proud of me. I tried to dismiss her compliment but she reined me back in, “No, listen to me. You need to hear this. I’m proud of you.” That’s when I realized with a tiny shock of electricity that I was looking into my mother’s clear blue eyes. Mother had eyes that are so light blue they sometimes showed up white in photographs. It was her nemesis--those black and white photos that left her looking like Little Orphan Annie, as she told it. I looked back into Mother’s eyes and accepted the message.
Two weeks later I was talking to the same woman, did a major double-take, and saw that Royanne’s eyes are really brown. I can’t explain it any further than to say this really happened. And I think sometimes God dresses up like people and comes down to earth to give us an important message. If we’re smart we hang around these kinds of people and places.
The timing of our transition has been accelerated because of this poetry of life: One of the young men who grew up in the Garland church now attends the Winnsboro church. And he will be ordained as an elder this coming Sunday. Chris went through the confirmation process in Garland and I was on the session when he joined the church in Garland. I want to be the first member to join when he goes on the session in Winnsboro.
There is one other reason to move our membership.
Chris and Kelly’s daughter was baptized in the Winnsboro church a year ago and I made sure I was in the congregation that day. I stood along with the rest and promised God and Olivia that I would love her and teach her about Jesus. For the past 35 years I have tried to keep these promises for the children baptized in Garland and now feel like I need to keep this promise for Olivia.
We go comforted and embolden in the knowledge that ultimately it’s always and only-- simply: all about Jesus, nothing more and nothing less. And He is in every place where people worship God in His name no matter where it is.