The tall Methodist church on the corner of Ferry and 5th Streets is the church where I attended vacation bible school, went on youth skating trips as a teenager and where I got married nearly 22 years ago. I always see a few people I know when I go there now. They are part of the village that helped to raise me, and I always enjoy visiting with them. I was so lucky as a child to have the kind of support I did, to have people who praised me, guided me and believed that I could do anything I dared to dream. This time, as I sat and looked around the pews, picking out those special people, I was struck by how old they are getting. Some of them are in their 80's now, and their health is obviously not what it once was. That made me kind of sad, but it was still great to see them. There's a comfort in knowing that they are still there after all these years, worshipping in the same pews.
I noticed in the bulletin that one of the retired pastors, the gentleman who was a preacher there when I was a teenager, was on the prayer list for some kind of serious illness. I saw his daughter sitting in the choir loft. She was a year behind me in school, and I immediately thought of those teenaged years we shared. I made a mental note to ask mama after church what was wrong with Brother Earl. That question was answered later in the service though, when he stepped out of the back of the choir loft to sing in a quartet with his daughter, Pastor Gary and Pastor Gary's wife. Brother Earl's presence surprised me, given his listing on the prayer list, and it seemed to pleasantly surprise some of the regular members. The four of them launched into a bouncy a capella song that had a strong southern Baptist flair, and his big bass voice came booming from his chest. I had forgotten how well, and how LOW, he could sing. And while the four of them sounded great, it was the combination of his voice and his daughter's voice that drew me in. He sang with great strength, bouncing from note to note with his whole heart. And when the song and the standing ovation were over, Pastor Gary spoke of how Brother Earl was doing a bit better despite his health issues. That prompted Brother Earl to talk about his recently diagnosed cancer, his treatment, his faith and his future. It was a great testimony of a determined hopeful spirit. Honest testimony from a man who devoted his life to ministry and has had to face his own weaknesses in his faith. His daughter barely managed to hold back her tears as he spoke, and I couldn't help but think about how much older she and I have become since those days of youth outings and high school classes. And how much older our parents are now and how frail their health can become at any time. I shed a tear because I'm a sympathy crier, but I think I also shed that tear for the journey that lies ahead of us.
The quartet followed with another song, and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the special music. Brother Earl's voice brought back so many memories of time spent in church and in other places with all of those people and friends of my youth. As Pastor Gary prayed, my mind wandered to so much of my youth. With my eyes closed I could see and remember so much. I was reminded of carefree days of hanging my head out of the back window of the car, watching the countryside roll by and whiffing the smell of freshly cut weeds and summer dirt. I could feel the shape of a lightning bug in my curled up hand, and I could see the shape of my father working underneath the hood of a car. The thoughts rolled through my head quickly, like pages of a book, and I realized how much of my life has involved the people who still live right where they did when I was young. It was a wonderful church service. I didn't get much out of the sermon, not because it was a bad one. I just got way more out of sitting in that pew in the presence of others. It's always good to go home.