I have a peculiar trait. I rarely return from an auto trip, no matter how short, the same way I went. Such was the case when seeing my neurologist. Upon leaving her office, I turned left at the tee instead of the normal right. I quickly left the area of shops and fast-food restaurants and entered a lovely residential area. After a mile and a half, I came upon a church that was off my radar screen because it was outside our 15-minute radius of churches we were considering as a church home.
Just for kicks, I glanced at the clock on the dashboard and set my GPS to get me home the quickest way. I was surprised to find that the church was only 12 miles from home and the trip took 19 minutes. Deborah and I decided to visit the church the next Sunday.
Upon arrival at the 11:00 service we were greeted by ushers who seemed genuinely glad that we had joined them for worship. We settled into a pew and shortly a dapper gentleman approached and engaged us in conversation. He recognized that we were new, asked us how long we had been in the area, where we lived, and a few other non-invasive questions.
I particularly noticed he had taken out a paper and jotted down something as we spoke. I later found out he had written our names down so he could remember them and to give to the pastor in case we did not fill out the guest information in the pews. Shortly thereafter, another gentleman came over and introduced himself. I remember him well for he was holding a shofar. I made a quip about how nice it was that he was welcoming us with the sound of horn.
Several things stood out in the service. One was the energy of the congregation and the joy on their faces. Nothing contrived here, just authentic worship. Lest you think I am only speaking of the music, the authentic worship was evident in every aspect of the service.
The next afternoon, around 6:00, the doorbell rang. Two men had stopped by with a small gift and a word about how much they appreciated our visit. Over the next several weeks we were contacted by the senior pastor and executive minister of the church. They encouraged us to get involved in one of the classes the church offered. We were invited by a church member to the Wednesday night supper. More and more church members were engaging us and little by little this church was drawing us into relationship.
The worship services continued to impress. One thing that stood out was the worship leaders seemed devoid of ego. The senior pastor readily shared the pulpit with the executive minister, even doing a tag team message on one occasion. He often utilized lay people from the congregation to share experiences as illustrations of points in his message. The same selfless approach could be seen on the worship team as various skilled musicians and singers move in and out of spotlight roles.
Within my bailiwick, I was delighted to see an Acts 1:8 model being played out, whether by design or chance I do not know. I was especially impressed that they have singled out a roughly one square mile urban area within their Jerusalem and are in partnership with a church there. Would that more churches would intentionally identify and engage in ministry in a strategic and specific way to make a difference in their community.
After more than a year and a half of searching for a church we could call home, we are delighted to have found one. One that will challenge us spiritually, allow the development of deep and dear relationships, and provide an outlet for the gifts and graces God, through his Spirit, has given us. So, this Sunday, we will be transferring our membership to St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, GA, and we look forward with eagerness to see what God has in store.