I was the second-youngest child in a family that took up the better part of an entire pew at our Baptist church. My maternal grandmother lived with us, which meant that every Sunday I heard three generations of my own flesh and blood sing from The Broadman Hymnal. We lived in a college town in the green hills of Arkansas, whose denominations in those days were as distinct as the seasons.
Everyone I knew headed somewhere to church on Sunday morning. Whether we were people of faith was not the question. We were people of church. Still, true faith could be found down the heel-scuffed halls of my church.
All who filled the pews had secrets. Though my family’s could have qualified for daytime television, I know now that no one there was what he or she seemed. We all needed Jesus worse than we pretended. We all had wounds that Sunday mornings had not mended. We needed a Savior willing to stuff himself into the crowded car with us after church and venture behind the dark drapes of our homes. Some of us needed a wonder-worker who could wring honest-to-God miracles out of a house doused in madness, a proper Savior for improper people.
The order of our service usually mirrored that of the previous Sunday. After all, people like order, and my people liked bulletins. We liked to know in advance what hymns we’d sing, who’d bring the special music, and whether we were baptizing anyone that day. We could usually tell the latter by the curtain over the baptistery. (If it was open, somebody was going under.)
The church bulletin also served as a checklist through which one could work toward the goal: the benediction. At our church, it always came in the form of a song, and sometimes we would join hands. The lyrics of 18th-century Baptist John Fawcett seemed to sum it up well: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”
The routine didn’t preclude the riches. Sacred songs were sung, the Bible was read and revered, a sermon was preached, an invitation was offered—and joy teemed over the takers.
I was 9 when I walked the aisle to profess my faith in Christ. I understood the basics of my decision: that I was a sinner and needed saving if I wanted to go to heaven. I could summarize many sermons I heard as a child with one thundering question: Do you want to go to hell? No, I did not. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go to heaven, either, but it clearly would beat hell.
Those who came forward remained at the front after the service so the other churchgoers could shake their hands until their shoulders nearly popped out of their sockets. The more the people congratulated me, the more I realized something profound had happened—something big people thought was big. And I cried like a baby, hiding my blotchy wet face with my left hand while shaking an assembly line of hands with my right hand. Jesus had come to my church that day and, in the routine, I had not managed to escape him....There is so much more in this article - a stirring Bible lesson and the pathos of hunger for God's presence. Read it all at the link.