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Preaching

CPC New Haven

 

When I enter a pulpit, I live. One of my best friends once told me early in my preaching that he wished I was more myself when I preached. That’s odd, I thought, I wished I was more myself when I wasn’t preaching.

I enter the pulpit and open the Bible. I look up and announce the text, and while I am still turning to it myself, I find a sip of water. I look up again, and then begin reading this Word from God. When it is finished, we pray. I pray. I tremble. I beg. I am thankful that I am but a courier, a messenger‑boy standing between parties, having little to do with the business being conveyed back and forth. I have run many miles to be here, and I stand weak and panting. Dear sirs, I have a message for you, if you please….

I enter the pulpit and open my soul. I enter the pulpit a compound of faith, caffeine, Tylenol and sin. I have not slept enough, nor prayed. I enter, filled with the Spirit. And so I begin, stumbling and pleading. This is urgent, so please, sirs, if you would come with me… we have many miles to go. And so the messenger‑boy becomes the leader, a guide to bring them to the place he has been told. Please hurry. It is urgent.

I am Aragorn, thin and swift, running across leagues of hilled meadows in pursuit of my prey held captured by our enemies. I am armored lightly so that I might run hour after hour, that I might have rest. I am a young man on vacation in the cool, summer air of New England. I run along Kettle Cove, my lungs full and my feet barely touching the ground as I sweep through the air a seagull. Nothing can stop me, nothing for the next half hour or so. I am a young officer running in loose formation mile after mile as the large Georgia sun begins to burn its way through the pine sculpted haze. All is strong and in order. Dead armadillos line the road.

I am winded, parched. I am Frodo, chubby, and weighed down by a burden unbearable, lost in a dark and alien land, surrounded by creatures who would wish to kill me if they only knew who I was. I am old and my back hurts. I stretch in the swimming pool, and an old man wading with yellow fillings smiles at me and says, “Hey ho! Something went crack!” I smile back, not happy. I run my twelfth mile in pack and boots, Georgia clay dust clinging around my lips and eyes. I blink through the sun and sweat. Is that the finish? My feet barely take me there. As some random General pins the medal on my chest, teetering in formation, my bladder finally releases and urine pours into my boots. I am decorated. I am a mess.

I am spent, parched. Words spill out that I had not planned, and those more eloquent than I think wise or right. I struggle and stumble along ‑‑ is it not plain for all to see? Then why do I not see? What is this blurring? Why do the words rise strongly into my throat, but only exit a whisper? I tear. I know that it is uncaused, unsought, a distraction. I know that it is as much exhaustion as conviction, as much chemicals as affection, but it is too late. I must finish, show them the place, collapse. Please, come, hurry. I am spent, alive. I preach. I live. I preach. ~ CAH, c. 1998

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Corner

 

This is a true story that happened to me in seminary.  Names have been changed.  I am Allan.  Ross has since gone on to be with his Lord. 

 

Allan, Abe and Ross sat around the kitchen table, drinking macro-biotic tea. Pots, pans and utensils hung from the ceiling and off every wall. The shelves were packed full of books, magazines, newspaper clippings from the past twenty years, and of course, games. Allan and Abe had their Bibles open, but Ross looked down at the table, his hand over his eyes. He wasn’t used to this — being confronted in his own home about the state of his faith. He mumbled something or other trying to express — no, trying to figure out — what he believed. Allan responded by reading something from his Bible, and then began to explain it. Suddenly, Ross looked up in anguish and shouted at Allan, “It’s all very good for you to have your nice, neat seminary answers, but they’re not doing me any good! Life’s not that simple! And another thing — Abe doesn’t know this — but you’re part of the reason I went into my depression! Remember? You took Greece without asking! And that set it all off!”

Allan had come to seminary at age 25 after spending three years in the Army. Immediately, he and his wife got involved in a local evangelical church made up primarily of lower-middle class, but well educated families. Allan remembered well the first time he met Ross. It was at the Saturday morning men’s prayer group, which met in the church kitchen. During the discussion, the issue of predestination vs. free will came up, and just when everybody had concluded that it was an inscrutable mystery (at least in the presence of so many donuts to be eaten), Allan announced in a mock-triumphant voice that he had the solution (which he in fact did). Never the coffer drinker, Ross looked up from his cup of macro-biotic tea, and spouted in reply, “So now what? We’re all supposed to bow down and worship you?”

Over the next couple of years, Allan got to know Ross better. Ross was a 62-year-old bundle of enigmas. Always struggling to make ends meet, he nevertheless had an extraordinarily sharp mind and a rich education, so that one could always expect Ross to quote Sartre or Ghandi or someone as he came or went from church activities. He had come to Christ through the ministry of the church ten years before Allan met him. Before that, he had led an adventurous life, starting Montessori schools in Afghanistan and Hong Kong, before returning to the states to run one out of his home. Ross was always aware of world events, and greatly burdened by the injustices and evils he saw in both American and other societies. Consequently, Ross served on the church missions committee, and threw himself into a number of other church activities as well. He was an unbridled optimist, and often came up with grand plans which never in the least materialized, both for himself and for the world. Ross also had diabetes, but was staunchly opposed to modern medicine, committing himself to a strictly macro-biotic diet in lieu of insulin.

Over time, Allan and Ross developed an unexpected friendship. Ross had served in Korea and also had a son in the Army, so they held this in common. Allan also enjoyed listening to Ross’s stories and views on things around the world. They were both avid BBC listeners. Allan was also impressed with the excellent job Ross seemed to do in home schooling his 13-year-old daughter, Ria, whom Allan knew from Junior High Sunday School, which he co-taught with his wife. Ria was the only junior higher Allan had ever known to use the phrase per se on a regular basis, and besides that, was a remarkably sweet girl. Ross’ wife, Greta, however, was not particularly sweet nor particularly a believer, and this was a constant source of pain for Ross, which he frequently brought up for prayer at the Saturday men’s group. One Saturday, Ross needed a ride home, so Allan volunteered. That was when he got the tour.

Ross’s home served in many ways as a metaphor for his life. Set back from the road, it was situated upon a slight, rocky hill surrounded by woods. A rusty yellow sign in the driveway warned “Slow! Children,” a left-over Allan supposed from the Montessori days. In the wooden three-car garage lay several shells of old car bodies, all half worked-on, half dilapidated. Two big, shabby dogs of some breed or more charged in welcome, their barks and tongues dangling in the wind. Ross pointed to a wooden structure attached to one end of the house that looked like a washed out bridge. It was once the walkway, he said, by which the school children would get from their classroom to the playground, now little more than a mass of mud. Ross and his wife, Greta, had turned the classroom into an apartment, but since no one was presently occupying it, Ross was able to show Allan around. Allan could see the gleams of pride in Ross’ eyes as he began to explain how they used to run the school, and their theories of integrated, holistic education. Rows of dusty trophies lined one hallway in silent homage to days gone by.

Ross brought Allan into another room, this one dominated by a huge pool table right in the middle. Boxes of board games filled the shelves, as well as the entire pool table. On one wall hung a lopsided “Go with Perot!” sign. Underneath it stood a table bearing a TRS-80 computer, which looked to be still in use. Ross began to tell Allan how this room was once used for the church youth group, but for some reason they decided to stop meeting at his house. Ross hoped instead to organize a young mothers group from church who would come and meet in his home. Allan looked around and nodded. Other rooms followed. Each had their own histories, their own artifacts, and more likely than not, their own roof leaks. Half the floor of one bedroom was a literal rock protruding above whatever was acting as the foundation.

The tour was concluded with an outdoor spiral-staircase climb to the second floor, a one-room “Spiritual Command Center,” which Ross had built with a bank loan that was supposed to go to fixing the roof. Allan supposed that Ross figured that another roof to leak through would at least slow the water down. The Spiritual Command Center was Ross’s place to get away, to organize his life and his dreams. It was equipped with several brimming map cabinets, scores of magazine stacks, and two fully functional eight-track tape players.

As the months wore on, Allan became more aware of a need in Ross’ family. Ross’ eldest son, Chad, was 27 years old and still living at home without a job. Chad had joined the Army, but unlike his younger brother, had not done well, and was in fact drummed out for laziness. Although, like his father, Chad had an exceptional mind, he had an extremely poor self-image and no ambition to seek a calling. At the same time, Chad professed a strong Christian faith and always made it to worship on Sunday. However, the young adult group at the church had disbanded, and Chad had no one in his life to challenge or disciple him. The only thing Chad had a mind for was board games, the complex political and military kind. Since Allan also enjoyed these, and had not been able to play them since high school, he thought it might be a good idea to use that as a link to begin discipling Chad. That autumn, Allan suggested that they set up some kind of “game night” on which they could both get together to first study the Bible some, and then play a board game or two. Chad was very enthusiastic about the idea, and even invited several friends to attend.

Every Friday night, Allan would go over to Ross’s and Chad’s house to study the Bible, pray some, and then engage in cardboard warfare. Often several people participated, including Ross and his daughter, Ria. At first, things went very well: Allan was getting to know the family better; Chad was open to change in his life; and everyone seemed to have a good time. However, Allan began to notice a change in Ross’ demeanor. As the winter got closer and closer, Ross’ mood got more and more dreary, and he seemed to Allan to be particularly burdened and tired. The house seemed to be getting dingier and dingier as well, but maybe that was just the fading autumn sun, Allan rationalized to himself.

The group began a new game called Diplomacy, which was supposed to reenact the political maneuverings in Europe which led to the First World War. The group decided that they would take only one turn each Friday, so that the whole week was available for negotiations with other players in accord with the game’s name. Ross was hoping to use the game to teach Ria about World War I, and when it happened that Ross ended up playing Germany and Ria ended up playing Austria-Hungary, Ross got a bright idea. He approached Allan, who happened to be playing Turkey, to form the historical Triple Alliance between these three empires that truly existed in 1914. It sounded interesting to Allan, so he agreed to give it a try, at least for as long it was to his advantage. After all, history is one thing; winning is another.

Meanwhile, Ross began showing up at worship and other church activities less and less. He seemed to be heading into a real slump and nothing could seem to stop it. Ross confided to Allan that at times he got so discouraged, he would just drive off to some cafe, and sit there all day and eat fish and chips and beer, food he knew was terrible for his diabetic condition. In addition, Allan had joined the missions committee that December, and learned that Ross had volunteered to head up the Angel Tree project that year, but had not yet done a thing about it. Eventually, someone else on the committee had to wing it at the last moment.

Strangely, the only thing that seemed to keep Ross going were the Friday game nights, as they learned how his historical rewrite would go each week as the Diplomacy game unfolded. At first, things for the Triple Alliance went very well. A surprise attack on Russia left that player reeling, and joint advances into the Balkans went unchallenged. But as the weeks wore on, things began to go sour. England hooked up with Russia in the north and was harassing Ross’ Germany. Italy was not cooperating at all, and France’s vacillation was just plain embarrassing to all involved. Finally, Allan had enough and decided that Turkey’s greater future lay somewhere else than the faltering Triple Alliance. So he opened channels with Russia, and decided to launch a sneak attack on Austria-Hungary, played by his Sunday School student, Ria. Allan’s first target would be Greece, left undefended by a trusting Ria. When the cardboard dust settled, and it dawned on Ross that his former ally, Allan, had betrayed him at the expense of his daughter, he did not get angry. Instead, he mumbled something and walked away.

Ross lost all interest in the game, and at the same time, he lost all interest in life. With Germany inactive, none of the rest wanted to play, and so while Italy was busy claiming victory by default, the rest of the Friday night game group faded away, almost as if it were a metaphor for Ross himself. And winter set in. And the days were short and cold; the nights windy and wet. And Christmas came and went, as usual never quite delivering the cheer that it promises. And winter went on. And Ross was not to be seen in church or city.

Of course, this concerned Allan, and so during the next several months, he phoned Ross to see how he was doing. When he could get Ross to the phone, all he could procure in return were half-hearted non-answers. “Fine. OK. I don’t much feel like it, that’s why. OK. Bye.” Allan talked to several of the church elders about the situation, and they were all concerned but didn’t know what they could do. Some suggested going over there and repairing his leaky roof, but others pointed out that a lack of labor was not the fundamental problem. Still others pointed out that Ross had been depressed before, and that he had always snapped out of it sooner or later. But he’d never been like this, others said. But one thing they all agreed to do was pray for Ross, and they prayed a lot.

Finally, in April, Allan approached the pastor about the situation, who was likewise concerned about Ross. He had in fact visited him two weeks previously, and simply told him that he was missed and welcome back anytime. The pastor also told Allan that there wasn’t really anything Allan could tell Ross that he didn’t already know, and that the best thing he could do for him was pray.

The next month Allan once again called Ross to see if he wanted a ride to the missions meeting. He had been asking for months, and he didn’t expect this time would be any different, but to his surprise, Ross said he would go. Allan wasn’t quite sure about what he thought of using the missions meeting as a seeker service, but at this point, he would take any opening he could get. In the car, he asked Ross many different questions, all pertaining to his well-being, but Ross was an expert at talking about every other important thing except his own spiritual health. Some people avoid the real issues in their life with a barrage of small talk; Ross did it with big talk. Finally, after hearing more than he could bear about the rest of the world’s problems, Allan blurted out, “But Ross, how about you? How is your relationship with Jesus?”

Ross looked down, rubbed his hands across his face, and murmured, “I’m beginning to wonder if I’m really one of the elect…. you see, God gives us tests that the elect are supposed to pass, right? I failed. I failed my test. Last fall, so many things fell apart…. Chad was still living at home without a job…. important parts of Ria’s home schooling fell through…. my wife still wouldn’t come to church with us…. and I was supposed to persevere and make all this work, so that we could have a strong Christian home… but I failed. So I must not be one of the elect.” Allan was somewhat shocked by the logic, but relieved that they were finally talking about the spiritual issues in Ross’s life. He offered some thoughts and some scripture as counsel to Ross, but soon they were at the home where the meeting was being held. On the trip home, Ross retreated to his refuge of big talk.

The next day, Allan spoke to the associate pastor, Abe, about what Ross had told him. Abe was very alarmed, and agreed with Allan that much more than just Ross’ moods were at stake, but possibly his very salvation. Abe suggested that Allan call Ross and arrange a time when both of them could come by for a very intentional visit to talk about these things. Ross agreed for a time in the morning two days later.

Abe and Allan trudged past the cars and the dogs and entered into Ross’ kitchen. They took seats around the table, while Ross fixed macro-biotic tea. When he sat down, Abe and Allan got right to the point. They wanted to know why Ross felt and believed as he did. Ross began to tell them, but he didn’t know himself. Like William Graham Sumner, he never deliberately discarded his beliefs, he just stuck them in a drawer for awhile, and when he went to fetch them, he found that they were gone. He could not outline in a reasoned fashion how he entered into his depression. All he knew was that he was tired, and tired of thinking. Ross told them how, during the winter, he would sit in the dark for hours at a time, doing nothing but thinking. And he was tired of trying to figure out how it all worked.

Ross told them also of his past, how he had been involved in mainstream denominations for much of his life, and how much he appreciated their genuine concern for the oppressed of the world. He told them about how important it is to have strong morals in the household and in society. Ross told them about his decision to come back to church ten years ago, and how he hoped it would lead to a strong and peaceful home life. He related his disappointment that after ten years, things had not worked out that way. He told them how he could not understand why God has not gotten Greta to go to church yet, so that the family could be united. And he reiterated his own sense of failure, how he had let God down in his role of husband and father. So he didn’t see any point in going on with church.

Abe and Allan began to answer Ross with scripture, trying to provide him with answers to some of the questions he asked. Allan was beginning a small discourse on Romans when Ross looked up from his macro-biotic tea with a look Allan had not seen since that first Saturday morning men’s group two years before. And, like a discarded scrap of meat gone bad — forgotten about until it begins to smell — the Greece issue was back on the table, and Ross looked accusingly at Allan. Now what should Allan say?

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Farm House

 

by C.A. Hutchinson, 1999

Out of my window at the church, I can see cotton fields. School children run between my office and the sight, but there they are. Actual cotton fields, white unto harvest. This astounds me. I once interviewed in Vermont at an old red brick church, called by that very name in fact. Instead of a pastor=s chair up front, it had three overstuffed Victorian couches faded with age. But what I really remember was the smell. The smell of cows and what cows leave behind. They came right up to the brick walls of the church. I wondered what it would be like to have to preach over the noise and smell of those cows. But I can only wonder, for cotton offers no noise, and to my knowledge, no distinct smell either. What it offers is a culture, a culture once at war with that same small town in Vermont.

On our dining room wall hangs a painting. It portrays a white clapboard Congregational church, box-like in shape, and typical in its rows of regular rectangular windows. It could be set in any New England town square, except for the gray mass of tangled Spanish moss which hangs from the looming trees around, framing the church in its Southern setting, a study in paradox. Which is, I suppose, why I like the painting so much, for it is a metaphor of my own life. It is in fact the Congregational Church of Midway, Georgia, established by New England puritans who emigrated first to Dorchester, South Carolina in the late 1600s, and then to Midway the century after that. It supplied Georgia with some its finest statesmen, soldiers, and preachers. The singular impact of this little church is incalculable. It now lies empty.

 

~~~~~

 

When I was a young lieutenant in the Army, one of my sergeants lived just down the road from the Midway church, that is until his house burned down. I still remember his kids being let off the school bus to the sight of their smoldering house, his little girl at first yelling, ACool!@ to impress her friends, and then bursting into tears. It was also while tooling around the Midway church graveyard that I met a man who invited me to the church that would eventually, after marriage and war, reverse the studied pilgrimage and sent me off to New England to myself prepare for the ministry.

I know this will sound strange, but New England has been to me something of a promised land. As a native born Southerner with traditional leanings, this sentiment expressed in the waning years of the twentieth century sounds something akin to heresy, I know. But there it is. What is more, I find myself ministering in a denomination directly descended from one once populated with unrepentant and unrebuked slave owners, a denomination whose de facto theological leader once described all abolitionists as “atheists, socialists, communists, red Republicans, (and) Jacobins.” Perhaps this is why I feel an unnatural sympathy with those whose only route to the promised land was by an Underground Railroad, for I too have felt the secret pull of New England on my soul as the place where I might find freedom and rest, my promised land.

My father was born and raised near old Dorchester, South Carolina, in the town of Summerville, so named because it was where the wealthy were able to escape to from Charleston, where I myself was born. My father was there stationed as a naval officer, an elite submariner, always to be pronounced correctly — emphasis on any but the first syllable. His ship was in fact a submarine tender, named the Hunley after the first submarine to ever a sink a ship, a Union vessel which was too busy blockading the rebel port to notice the Confederate sub sneak up with a mine attached to the end of a long pole on its bow. The pole was in fact not long enough, and down went the Hunley as well. That never happened to my father’s ship. He speaks in an accent unique to Summerville, instantly recognized the world over by those experienced in it, and downright confounding to all the rest. There are those who have thought that he was English, to which apart from being reared Episcopalian, my father bears no resemblance.

I, however, am of mixed race, for my father married a Connecticut Yankee whom he met at a dance while stationed in New London. His first words to her were to be careful not to eat too many peanuts, lest they give her the runs. They were engaged within two months. His parents agreed to it, seeing that her folks were originally from Richmond and Baltimore respectively, both fine Southern towns. My wife and I began our lives together later in a small Georgia town near the coast named Richmond Hill. The only thing Hill about it was that it was not under water. It was named that only because Henry Ford, who used to winter there, wanted it named that, and who could argue with that? Especially since not much money made it down those ways, not since the war. It was a few miles from Richmond Hill where Sherman=s army first made contact with the sea in the march named by that fact.

When I was little, during Sunday dinners in Summerville, we children were placed apart at a separate kids’ table on one side of my grandparents dining room. I remember once saying the word, “Sherman,” as loud as I could just to see the reaction. I remember something about utensils dropping along with the jaws, and receiving a lecture about what was and wasn’t proper language on the Lord’s Day. So even then, my mixed blood showed itself discontent with its Southern element alone, a hint of this unseemly longing for New England.

Or perhaps it is those summer months of my youth, when we would tumble out of our station wagon sleepy-eyed onto the fresh white pebbles of my grandfather=s driveway, fourteen car hours away from our home in the South. We would run into the kitchen shouting hello while looking for presents. My grandfather was nicknamed Bootie, after the nickname that he tried to pin on my older sister, on account of the baby shoes she wore. He kept a paddle above his workbench in the garage for spanking. It was nothing more than one of those ball-and-paddle toys except for the ball. Usually those balls just snapped off in mid-bounce, as I remember them, and thus, a new paddle. They were the equivalent of the missile submarines on which my father worked, more for deterrent than actual use, guarantors of the peace, at least we prayed so, for they looked like they would do a pretty number on our behinds.

We would eat from the endless bounty of butterfly pretzels my grandparents kept stored in glass vials on the counter, and then plunder their supply of sugar cubes whenever we could find them. We would put them straight in our mouths whole, sucking them into nothingness. Those sugar cubes were magic, you see, for these could not be found anywhere in our house down South. One time my younger cousin was not seen for hours but instead of eating sugar cubes, we finally discovered him in the dog kennel, sitting contentedly on the grooming table, having stuffed himself with all manner of dog biscuits. Red, green, brown and yellow crumbs littered his face. He was New England in the Fall.

All of this took place on my grandparents’ country property, where they lived in a white clapboarded farmhouse first built in 1742. There was a hole in one of the upstairs floorboards so deep and so mysterious that we once lost a toothbrush down it and never saw it again. Tumbling stone walls laced across the acres, through field and woods alike. We would adventure atop these walls, rocking back and forth upon the loose stones and scaring the wits out of one another whenever we caused a black snake to slither out. One time I found small old rusty nails and pieces of china within part of a wall, and I was sure I had discovered an actual Continental Army camp site, a tribute to those brave Yankee Doodles who had thrown tea into the sea and freed our country from the mean Lobsterbacks, all the while wondering why they thought their hat feathers were a kind of pasta. Other times we’d venture into the old barn with its mysterious black cats, and the weathered yellow cow skulls below. The dust itself in that place was mystery and history swirling around our cautious foot steps.

On occasion we’d visit for Christmas, and when snow graced the rolling fields around, it was as if the clouds of heaven itself had fallen as a blanket upon the earth. When we would awake and see the glistening magic outside, immediately we would whoop and run downstairs to don our snow suits kept for us there each year. They were thick and bulky and swished when you walked. Then we would carry our aluminum flying saucers and trek to the nearest hill and spend hours carving race paths into the snow. Only when enough snow had gotten underneath our scarves and mittens, and melted against our skin, soaking us, would we surrender to the elements and retreat back inside, craving cocoa. New England.

After a few years of living outside of Charleston, my father got transferred to Washington DC, where we moved into a suburban house where I spent the rest of my childhood years. I graduated high school and somehow got it into my head that I wanted to go to college in the South, where I reasoned I might find a more civil culture. The place I attended was considered one of the most prestigious in the South. There the future leaders of America smashed their BMWs into lampposts after drinking too hard because the several girls they had hit on all turned them down. Life alternated between dark, throbbing parties and classes where we were taught by the most respectable of authorities that there was no such thing as truth to pursue. I still remember the way my sneakers smacked down the dorm halls from the dried, sticky beer any given morning of the week. The Methodist chaplain whom the school kept on as a veneer of civilization called it a pagan place. Then again, the chapel over which he presided counted among its statued saints such heroes of the faith as Thomas Jefferson, whose belief in the Bible involved a generous use of scissors.

After college and before the Army, when I was laboring in the Southern summer to train my body for war, I visited some friends on the Massachusetts coast. There as I ran, my lungs filled with fresh New England air, and I ran not as a man afoot, but as a seagull, light as air, flying across the expanse of Kettle Cove. I ran through a small hamlet, past a gray, three-story building with a cafe. Though I did not know it in the least at the time, I was surveying the very place my wife and I would inhabit years later, the place where our daughter, named after my grandfather from Richmond, would first call home.

Some years passed before that, however, in our first home of Richmond Hill, down south, selected because it was near my first duty station, Ft. Stewart, eleventh on a list of ten preferences I had requested from the Army. When they sent me to war, two months after getting married, I longed for nothing more in the deserts of Babylon than to return home and make a quiet living in some small, green place. Though I could not yet articulate it, I was longing for New England. The war over, my duty done, our church sent us to seminary there, and it was there that our marriage finally discovered a home, a place to prosper. It found a home not only in the beauty and the weight of the place, but in a small, Congregational church on the edge of the world, a small Scandinavian fishing village called Lanesville. There zeal met authenticity, and precision met love.

It became my dream to stay in New England and find some poor, floundering Congregational church to pastor, one steeped in history, but slouched against modernity, and I would become its reformer, reviver, messiah. It was my dream. It was my idol. I did preach once in exactly one of those churches, founded in 1642 in the suburbs of Boston, and now sporting a huge, ornate sanctuary they had built in the late 1800s to sit over 1,500 people. It had a pulpit so high that it took two levels of stairs to reach it, and standing in it that morning made me almost dizzy from the heights I had ascended. The morning I preached, all of thirty people were left to worship. And they each sat in the different far reaches of the sanctuary, so that as I preached, it was as if I was addressing thirty different congregations. Which I was. That is largely the story of New England Congregationalism, and not even one of the sadder parts.

 

˜~~~~~

 

As for the Midway Congregational church in Georgia, they died out it seems for two distinct reasons. The first is that they planted a number of churches in the surrounding towns, all Presbyterian, as the antebellum spirit between the two groups was charitable, for they agreed in almost every detail of the faith. And there being no other Congregational churches in the region, it seemed most fitting that the daughter churches take a new name and flesh. The second reason seems to be that after Sherman’s army came through, there was not enough of an economy to sustain the town or church, and so family after family moved away, until finally, the building stood empty, a monument to its forbearers, North and South.

If one visits the old Midway church and takes careful observation of its pulpit design, the place where God=s redemptive Word was proclaimed each Lord=s Day, and then one happens to worship in the church where I currently serve as associate, one might notice the deliberate imitation between the pulpits, we trust in all respects. I am told that our church wanted to duplicate the Midway architecture whole, but were informed that such ancient architecture would never hold up today.

My wife and daughters and I went back to New England a couple of summers back, I thought for a vacation. I realize now that it was to say good-bye. Not good-bye to a region, nor a people, and certainly not to friends. But good-bye to a dream, an idol. Good-bye to a time which belongs in the past, if yet its legacy lives on, even now, even here, under the gray tangles of Southern trees.

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