Monday, August 26, 2013

A Glorious Church Service

by Gregory A. Johnson
A Glorious Church Service, by Gregory A. Johnson
Church in a renovated carriage house

Instead of the church in Mississippi, God led us to pastor a group of folk in central Kentucky. We were so happy to find the will of God and move from West Virginia to Kentucky to pastor. The church there did not have a lot of people, it didn't have a parsonage, and it was not debt-free like the church in Mississippi, but God called us there, and they were fine people. They had church in an old carriage house on the property of an old southern mansion that sat on a hill overlooking the city. The mansion had burned down, but the church bought the ten acres and renovated the old carriage house to have church in until they could afford to build a sanctuary on the property.

The property had history. The old two-level carriage house still had iron jail bars on the windows of the basement. It was where slaves were housed at night during the terrible days of slavery in America, when African Americans were treated, valued, and traded as animals. The slaves would work long, hard days on the property farming tobacco and taking care of the livestock. At night they would be locked in the dark, damp, and musty smelling basement with the horses and carriages housed comfortably in the nicer level above them.

We didn't have any African Americans that attended our services in the old carriage house. They would have been welcomed by me and the loving people there, but there were a lot of scars in the community left over from the days of slavery and segregation. The African Americans had their church, and we had ours.

In the summertime, we baptized new followers of Christ in a cow trough outside the building because there was no room for a baptistry in the renovated carriage house. In the cold of winter, I would call the African-American church to use their sanctuary to do baptisms in. They would graciously and lovingly allow us the use of their facility, making sure the baptistry was filled and heated, even providing attendants there to assist us in our baptismal services. We baptized many people in that African-American church. In fact, it is where my own children were baptized in water.

One day I called the pastor of that church and shared with Him what the Lord had laid on my heart that morning in prayer: I invited him to come to our church and preach on Sunday night and for him to bring his choir and do the whole service—everything from worship to preaching. My congregation would do nothing but worship with his as we all came together. It would be their service in our church. He did not hesitate on accepting the invitation.

It was a hot, humid, Kentucky summer night when we all came together—his African-American church and my white European-American church. We had church that night in that old carriage house where slaves were once penned up like animals. I felt long-held strongholds in that city begin to loosen that night. We sang together, we worshiped the Lord together, we laughed together, we cried together, we hugged each other, and we loved on one another. It was a glorious service and gave us all a taste of what it will be like around the throne of God with people represented from all nations worshiping God for all eternity (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV).

I didn't have a large paid staff at that small church to give the day off on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but every year I closed the church office, encouraging our church to be involved in the community activities in our city, surrounding that day.

Excerpted from the book, The Kingdom According to Jesus by Gregory A. Johnson. Copyright ©  by Gregory A. Johnson. All rights reserved.