RIGHT OUT OF SEMINARY I served a district of five churches along with another pastor. He was the senior and I was the intern, so I pretty much looked after the three small churches and he oversaw the two larger ones. I drove a lot of miles that year.
The first time I visited the smallest and most distant church was a memorable event. GPS didn’t exist yet, so the senior pastor told me it was a nice building on the left as I entered the little town.
“Don’t worry; you’ll have no trouble finding it,” he assured me.
But I did. I arrived early and began driving up and down the streets. Nothing. It was nearly time for service to begin, and I began to get a bit panicky. It would be my first introduction to the church, and I sure didn’t want to be late.
I stopped at a gas station to check the phone book (remember those?), but of course the little church had no phone, so it had no entry in the phone book. Then I got a brilliant idea; I stopped by the police station and told them my plight. I said something like, “If there was a robbery reported at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, how long would it take you to get there?”
The helpful officer behind the desk said, “Son, we don’t even have a Seventh-day Adventist Church in this town.”
“Yes, you do,” I assured him. “I’m the pastor.”
So he volunteered to help me find it, and we piled into his patrol car. We didn’t drive around more than about five minutes when he got an idea. He made a U-turn, and a couple of blocks later pulled up in front of two huge fir trees. Sure enough, through the branches I could see the sign (misspelled): Seveneth Day Adventist Church. I almost wished we hadn’t found it.
Now, sixty years later, let me give you an update, also true. Another church in another place. As I write, we’re in the midst of the coronavirus tragedy, and most of the churches in our nation are functionally closed. So are many of the businesses, restaurants, hotels, etc. Most of the local decrees read something like, “Closed except
for essential agencies such as police, fire, hospitals, grocery stores . . . and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” That’s what the announcement said!
I had to find out what that was about. Here’s what I learned. Everybody for miles around knows about that church; it’s seen as “essential.” It’s a powerhouse of
deliverance. They take in drug addicts and pray them through withdrawal, provide temporary housing for the homeless, and feed scores every week. Like hospitals, grocery stores, and police, the church is viewed by the city as an indispensable part of the community.
This isn’t ancient history. Just yesterday morning a small group arrived about 7:00 a.m. and, keeping appropriate social distances, set up tables and a hundred empty boxes. An hour later they left and another small group arrived and began to fill the boxes with food. Cars pulled up, loaded up the boxes, and headed out for delivery. A hundred families had a lunch they likely wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Essential, indeed. I believe God is honored when His church isn’t hidden behind two huge fir trees . . . or anything else.