Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reflections: Part III

The Maple Grove Church of Christ.

A tiny church, filled with people (imperfect as all humans), loving God and wanting to do His will. Reflecting on my spiritual upbringing is, like all things, filled with both the highs and lows of emotions. I made so many friends and have loved the members that attended there as family. I have thousands of memories surrounding that small congregation struggling to survive over the 18 years of my attendance. This is probably one of the hardest reflections to write about as it's so close to my heart. Spiritual things tend to be personal and thus more sensitive to talk about or reflect on. I approach my reflections with great caution because I would never want to hurt anyone by my thoughts on this sweet little congregation, and yet sometimes even the best intentions have the potential to go astray.
The Churches of Christ pride themselves in being Bible based and seeking to follow only the inspired Word of God rather than man made doctrine or rituals. It's a rich history based on good intentions and great people. The Church of Christ that I grew up attending was VERY small. We were what most would call an "anti" Church as we did not have a kitchen in our building. Our fellowship consisted of Sunday morning worship and Bible class, Sunday evening worship, and Wednesday night Bible classes. (If you know much about the Churches of Christ, this is very typical). We were there every time the doors opened. We took turns cleaning the building, caring for the lawn, and there were "men's business meetings" every so often to make sure the funds were being properly distributed. We had no elders or deacons, only a preacher and some guys who served as leaders. I only remember one season of "growth" for our little Church and I think that came right after we built the building on Maple Grove Road; but for most of my childhood and teen years, it was in decline. Looking back it's kinda sad, because the people there truly were such great people. I loved being with them and fellowshipping each week.
It's hard to remember anything from my childhood that wasn't tied to Church in some way shape or form. There were a lot of homeschooling families at our congregation, and many of them lived nearby. There was a season of time when t.p.ing members homes was an epidemic, and it wasn't just the teenagers doing it. We had a grown man waiting on his roof with the garden hose in hand to ambush another family he had heard were on their way to tp. his house! Oddly enough this conservative group of people had spectacular Halloween parties, crazy Christmas parties, and a yearly variety/talent show that still hold some very fond memories. (Especially since Janet video taped them all!)
As a very young child I remember laying my head back on the pew looking up at the light fixtures. They were trough shaped and I often times imagined God giving out His richest blessings (babies) via this "conveyor belt". I picture myself standing at the end ready to catch my new baby, and each time I extended my arms it was a child orphaned from another country. I had African babies, and Asian babies, Indian, South American, and European, all waiting for my care.
I often time sat with a friend of my mom's who (at the time of this memory) didn't have any children of her own. She had the softest hands I'd ever felt. She would stroke my face, and it was all I could do to not fall asleep. Another friend's mom had "Go Go Gadget" arms and could pull my ear from six seats away on the same pew if I was talking during service!
Our preacher Mike, was a great speaker and even as a kid I appreciated the way he explained the scriptures. My favorite was when his child Hannah only wanted to be held by daddy during the lesson, and he would put her up on his arm and preach away while she lay there sucking her thumb laying on his shoulder.
My friend Rachel had a sketch book in which she sketched the backs of people's heads during services. There were even 'updated' corners of the page for when someone got a significant hairstyle change. Our basement classrooms were very dark and the hallway mysterious without the lights on, the young boys of the congregation were fodder for many older boys pranks in these scary halls.
I was baptized there on March 12 1992. It was my 13th birthday, and my brother (who hadn't been to Church in 5 years) came that day. The temperature of the baptismal was off, so it was like getting dunked in a hot tub! My Dad couldn't be there because he had a meeting at work (a meeting he tells me he still regrets going to, knowing my moment was of greater significance!) The Freeman's were there, the Crutchfields, the Monzo's, the Bryant's and I think even the White's and Tolman's were there. They all sang "Just As I Am" as I came out of the water.
Along with some of the great memories there were also some sad times as well. A dear friend lost her battle with cancer and her memorial service was held there. She asked my sister and I to sing, and I can still remember the lump in my throat as I tried to get the words to 'Hallelujah" out to honor Betty's memory. There was an affair that tore two families apart and caused a valley of pain in our midst, and there was a "Church split" a few years later that left me puzzled and confused for many years.
How do we honor God? How can we ever be the Church body He intended us to be? We are flawed, imperfect, selfish and worthless beings and yet He choose to send His Message of perfection, selflessness and value through us. As I reflect on my religious past I see that it has shaped so much of who I am right now, both the positive and the negative. I pray that the good things I have learned will be passed on to my children, and the less than perfect would become a valuable lesson for me, again to be passed on as wisdom.
If you were a part of the tapestry of my Church past I say Thank You. You have taught me much, and I am blessed to share the blood of Jesus in common with you!

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