Growing up here, as a lad, I learned that our community is at times divided as to who leaves and who comes ashore. Many times, these two divisions of citizenry will describe the area. I’ve listened carefully. How is it that they are talking about the same place? French modernist painter Edouard Manet (1832-1883) once said, “The country has charms only for those not obliged to stay here.” With all due regard to my youthful gang departed, I am blessed daily, to live on the Northern Neck today.
My blessings extend beyond geography. They include church as well. You simply cannot imagine how proud I am to be the pastor of the Irvington Baptist Church. Our wonderful congregation has taught me more about love and forgiveness and hope, than all my combined seminary education and pastoral experience even threatened.
I lovingly refer to you my reading, praying, public, as those to whom I preach, in the annex. It is a heavy responsibility and a joy to offer you some 800 words from this paper pulpit week upon week. My Lord, who directs my life, family extant, my church supportive, my annex-faithful, all, combine to be the force of life that makes it so worthwhile to get up every morning.
From the start, I have tried to be encouraging of the nobility of our wonderful local congregations. I have tried to suggest to you, the reader, that frequenting some church-house local is tantamount to successful living. I have also tried to be transparent enough that everyone can ascertain my allegiance to the houses of worship planted in this garden of God. I disagree with Manet. “I am not obliged to live here,” I am privileged to live.
From this weekly column, I have shared the vicissitudes of pastoral life: from family, pulpit, boat, pier, farm, office and road. Within this paper I have married off my baby, cried when she and the young man she brought into our family fell apart. I begged you walk with me throughout the arrival on these shores of my mother-in-law, then later her funeral. You helped me care for my dad, support my stepmother and afterwards memorialize them. You gave me strength to face overwhelming odds of surviving the tragic illness and death of my first wife of thirty-four years.
Another point I wish to make is that I did all this living at the altar of a small Baptist Church. Each of these aforementioned chapters in my life stood at the junction of our center aisle and altar. Paul Harvey, that late, famous radio voice of the Midwest, the world, often segued into his next chapter with the words, “and now you know the rest of the story. Like Paul, every week there is another story, another interest.”
I am in love, second-time around; wonderfully so. I received a gift from the heart of God named Hazel, such an answer to prayer. She has helped me to heal from great pain. On a Thursday now long past I phoned her as I was driving back from Richmond to this place where I am so privileged to live. I asked her to meet me at church at 10:45 p.m. I called that brilliant young pastor from Morattico Church (just now retired) and asked him to join us. He too is a gift of God to me. We arrived under a pall of perplexity. Heavy stuff, even for me.
Unlike the first time I proposed to a young lass, having just changed from USMC green to Piedmont Air civilian, I was much older. In some very significant ways I was/am also an institution (no, I didn’t say I need to be institutionalized). I asked Hazel (then a friend of over 12 years) and pastor Smith to stand with me at that altar and talk about love rekindled, about what it meant to marry an institution, about how difficult life can be for a pastor’s family. We three prayed. We prayed hard. When I dropped to my knees and with God’s blessing asked Hazel to be my wife she blessed my future with a resounding, “yes.” I trembled as I slipped a ring upon her finger. Craig took us back to heaven. Covenant ensued. Romance, then so alive, still lives in my heart, because Christ does.
Since we (you and me) began this pilgrimage decades ago, I have tried to tell you just how important church is to me. Truly, church is my place for all seasons. It is the spot where I have said “good-bye” to loved ones; where we went to formalize the promises Hazel and I made almost 20 years ago (4/23). It is the place where I baptized my future step-son, who married his Sarah Beth there. Their two lads now populate our IBC Sunday School and youth group. Truly, for over three decades it has been the local place where my life has found purpose.
Listen to me. Get involved with some local congregation. Put your life on God’s line. You will be blessed, you will be strengthened. God will be pleased.
Oh, yes, be sure to get me to the church on time. Y’all coming?
See ya Sunday.