Autumn is definitely in the air (along with its allergens). The last couple of mornings it was in the mid-50s when I got up. It was glorious. It reminded me of my time serving up in East Texas (the Tyler, Longview, Henderson Metroplex). I was serving my first appointment as a barely minted pastor and had a three-point charge. Simply put, that means I was the pastor of three country churches who could not afford a pastor on their own. It was a delightful time and I learned a great deal. The members were almost all related to one another in one way or another. In fact, I had one sweet lady tell me, “Pastor, families around here are like pines: tall, deep roots, but few branches.” I learned a great deal about what the church is supposed to be like in the world for those three communities. Let me start with a couple of stories.
Church Hill was the largest of the three and sat on a hilltop; its classic white steepled building against the trees and sky was awe-inspiring. Josh, my oldest son, was 5, David, my youngest, was 3 at the time. Sundays were an early morning affair since I had two services at two different churches Sunday mornings and one in the evening. It looked like we were packing for a trip and my precious wife, Mary, was logistics master and my ex-facto children’s director. Most mornings when we arrived at Church Hill, the small incline was just too much for 3-year-old David to make. So, in the universal sign of pick me up, he raised his little arms up and stared at me with his big brown eyes, all meaning “Carry me.” So I, of course, scooped him up … holding him with one arm with his arms wrapped around my neck as we walked up and into the sanctuary, at which time he came to life and hopped down to greet all his surrogate grandmothers and grandfathers.
Oak Hill UMC was also set on a rise and there was no paved parking around the church. Lignite mining came up to the church, including the adjacent Oak Hill Cemetery property. When you pulled up to the 100-plus-year-old brick building, you navigated the grassy yard to four concrete steps up to the front doors of the sanctuary. Miss Evelyn had suffered a stroke and was wheelchair bound. Roy Lee, her much beloved husband of 60-plus years, would pull up to the church in his Chevrolet Suburban and on a cane walk over to open his wife’s door. As if on cue, men in the church would step forward and lift Evelyn with loving care, place her in her chair and then carry her in the chair up the steps into the sanctuary.
To me, those experiences give a classic picture of what the church is supposed to do: to carry the weak, the hurt, the discouraged, the lost, the frustrated, the helpless. We have to realize, first, we can’t do this life all alone. Secondly, we need to realize we don’t have to do it alone. Friends, as we walk through this current wilderness, make sure you have people that have your back. People who when you are weary, tired or just unable will scoop you up … lift you up and get you to where you need to be. God is always with you and, even in the toughest places of life, there will be people there who will encourage you. Don’t try to handle all the battles of life as a lone ranger, or you will sadly find yourself burned out and feeling alone. Find your group, your encouragers, and continue together until the victory is won.