I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church here in the south end of Louisville. We went to Sunday School and Church every Sunday–some Sunday nights. We were frequent but not regular in attendance at Wednesday night suppers. I don’t remember a time when my dad wasn’t a deacon. He also taught Sunday school and was the church moderator for many, many years. Of course, women were not deacons, so my mother taught Sunday school and did a lot of cooking in the church kitchen and for dinners in our home–oh, so many dinners in our home. So, I grew up in the church-thinking I would always be active and a part of the mainstream church–but maybe not always Southern Baptist.
When my 1st husband and I moved to the Highlands in 1971, we joined Strathmoor Presbyterian Church. Gary Pennington (currently a member here at HBC) was the minister at that time and we felt very comfortable in that congregation. As sometimes happens, I got more and more involved as time passed. I was an Elder, in the choir, in Sunday School and on the pastor nominating committee. Don’t remember what else I was doing but I just became more deeply immersed as time went by. Until I began to feel I was drowning….
1987 was a very bad year-my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died within a short period of time. Almost simultaneously, the minister (after Gary Pennington) moved to Oregon and my best friend, the pastor’s wife, was leaving. Too many things came crashing in on me–and I just sat down. One Sunday, I didn’t go to church. That one Sunday turned into almost 25 years. Yes, I found various churches in the neighborhood to celebrate Christmas and Easter-I enjoyed the traditions and the music, but I just couldn’t reconnect.
For all those 25 years, I had a spiritual connection to God, but I could not commit to returning to a religious institution. I was just wandering in the wilderness.
One day about 6 years ago, Linda Barber, my friend of forty+ years, encouraged me to come with her to Friday Church. She said she liked to arrive early and sit right up front to hear the band practicing. I was facing some challenges in my life. So maybe this would be good for me??
That first night was the game changer for me! It was as if Joe Phelps could see into my soul and he was speaking directly to me. The music was warm and fun–thanks Fred. The crowd was inclusive and welcoming. The next week, Bojangles’ sermon talked of going fishing and I still have the visual images of a fish flopping on the shoreline, out of control, but finding peace when he returned to the water. This experience was more than overwhelming for me.
Well, the past 6 years of my life have really been a roller coaster:
I retired from full time work, leaving a job that I loved and felt passionate about because I could no longer be associated with the Executive Director of the agency.
I became a widow. My husband passed away 2 years ago and it was peaceful at the end. But it had been a long slow decline over several years. He was unhappy and I was frequently his target since he couldn’t lash out at others. At the funeral, I was overwhelmed when I looked out at the crowd and saw an entire row of Friday Church folk there to support me.
I left my home of 44 years and moved to a condo. This meant that I had to go through everything accumulated over a lifetime and decide what to keep and what to discard. Very painful at every turn.
But through all of this-I felt the hand of God on my shoulder. Through all the toils and snares, I felt God’s support and direction to “make sense” of it all. I have NEVER FELT THIS TYPE OF SUPPORT AND GUIDANCE BEFORE.
Last year, I declined when I was asked to serve as a Deacon at Highland Baptist Church. I was afraid that I would become overwhelmed with routine tasks and would lose my spiritual focus. But this year, when Vicki Runnion talked with me, I felt that it was time to take on this task-one day at a time-to be a voice within the deacons for Friday Church and all its participants.
We are not the wealthy members, we are not the highly educated members, we are not the influential members. But, we are all God’s children and I see Friday Church as a very important part of the mission of Highland Baptist Church.
I have come a long way from that Southern Baptist Church where I grew up. Things seemed so much simpler and safer in that world. Or at least I was protected. It’s been a lifetime since then, but once again I am back in church with God’s arms wrapped around me.
So, on Sunday I will become a Deacon.
I am so proud of this church and all it stands for.
I am also so proud to tell others that this is my church–
everyone in my community knows who we are, and what we stand for.
But I am also a bit scared. And I ask for your support and prayers as I begin this task.
It takes real guts to maintain the principles that we believe in.
It takes real guts to “be doers of the word and not hearers only”.