Our small town Methodist church was, for me, always about community and tradition. As a young girl I remember watching my mother locate hymns in the red hymnal with her program, and then scampering up to the front of the sanctuary to sit with the pastor before being ushered out to Sunday School. I felt bad for the adults who had to stay in their pews for another half hour. I remember the Christmas service with the big wooden Christmas tree the choir would climb up into-their framed ornamented faces would appear as they sang. And the next Sunday, I remember trying to position myself so that when the “kings” walked down the aisle I would be as close to their velvet and jewels as possible. Those 3 kings of orient were a close second to Santa in my eyes.
I remember summers of VBS and homemade ice cream. I remember weddings and visiting speakers in Hardwick Hall, and the warm feeling of preparing and assembling food in the church kitchen. I remember getting dressed up for the glamour-shots that would become the church directory, the annual Bazaar that displayed all the creative ambitions of our church women, and specific church women who still wore amazing hats every Sunday morning.
I remember Confirmation, and being really glad that the pastor that we had on rotation that year was so nice. He had two daughters my age, and I hope they were glad to be with us during their Confirmation year, too. At the end of our year, I really did experience a sense of belonging, standing in the sanctuary with my fellow Confirmands.
Junior high years and MYF was my social life. We did sneak over to the Baptist youth group too, even the Presbyterians sometimes...but only to assure ourselves that the First United Methodist church was home! Not only because we knew about the best places to hide during “sardines” and how to unlock the doors to reach the organ pipes and church steeple stairs during lock-ins. Being a teen at a small town church necessitates choices that I’m sure kids these days don’t make. ;)
Good choices were made during my teen years as a Methodist, as well. Summer camp of 1991 I remember meeting Stew Handy. His story was amazing, and he was so relatable and fun. The way he talked about his friendship with Jesus was something that, at that time in my life, I had never heard at church. I had also never experienced hearing the voice of God. But that summer during a worship service, I thought I did, and I had adults invested in my life to share the experience with.
Our MYF leader at that time was Guy Neyl Cunningham. I can say for sure my life would not be the same if it weren’t for Guy. Every kid in America should take a youth group road trip in a church van. One such road trip led us to a Carmen concert, and it was there that I heard for the first time that I could “give my life” to Christ. I could be re-born. At our church, we didn’t do things like repent or pray something that had not been memorized. We didn’t raise our hands or go to the front. We for sure didn’t confess anything or cry. We didn’t need to be born “again” at the FS FUMC. Everything at that concert was kindof shocking. But somehow in a very good way.
The next summer at camp, my personal life felt as out of control as a 16 year old girl’s could. Parent issues, boy issues, body issues...it truly felt like life or death to me at the time. It wasn’t good, and church camp was the last place I wanted to be. One afternoon I remember feeling like I needed to just get AWAY. I found a quiet place, and I remembered some things I had heard at that concert with Guy. I remembered the option of giving my life to Christ, and I knew in that moment I did NOT want my life.
So I yielded. Alone, I opened my hands. And I prayed the only thing I knew to pray-I gave my life to Jesus. I laid down my broken heart and picked up His.
I probably missed a few steps. I had no scriptures memorized. But my tears immediately dried, and I felt a warm, heavy peace that I knew was permanent. I had invested adults in my life to share that experience with, too.
That moment would not have happened if it weren’t for the foundation that had been laid in the years before by the people of my church family. So many inconsequential encounters, so many small moments of building trust. That is who we are as a community of believers! The way we live together and stand together and give each other our time. It is important to remember for me now as an adult with teenagers myself! I hope our teens grow with a similar strong foundation, in a large church family that still values community and tradition.
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