The church bespoke traditionalism, from the white columned entrance to the stained-glass cross behind the baptistery. It had been a pivotal point in the small college town almost since its conception, a driving force behind the community’s staunch morality, a beacon of light. But, as time passed around the church, it became a place of exclusion, a symbol of judgment rather than of the open arms of Christ.
It was into that building the young man walked. He’d never entered a church before--would have never considered entering one until the previous Monday. On that day, at a college Bible study luncheon he’d attended with a new girlfriend, he’d heard God’s Word spoken in a way that gave it life and meaning and passion, and gave him life and meaning and passion, too. He’d spent hours during the week reading the gospels with Nichole, marveling at the life of Jesus.
“He did this twice?” Simon asked after reading the second account of Jesus raising Lazarus.
“No, silly!” Nichole laughed. “This is another account, written by a different person.”
Simon’s rich baritone laughter filled the air. “I have a lot to learn, huh? Where are we going to church Sunday?”
Nichole frowned. “I’m going home for my parent’s anniversary. I won’t be here.”
Undaunted, Simon walked to the church nearest the campus--the white pillared church that had once been so vital to the community.
He entered and looked around, unimpressed by the expensive interior, the well-dressed people and the high-dollar sound system. He looked forward and saw the stained-glass cross. That’s where he wanted to be--as near to that cross as possible. He walked the aisle focused on his goal, unaware of the looks and whispers that followed him.
He pushed his pony-tailed hair behind his shoulder as he sat on the steps leading to the stage. He pulled a pack of gum from the back pocket of his blue jeans, put a piece in his mouth, baled the trash and put it into the pocket of his tee-shirt. Soon, a man that loved Jesus as much as he did would tell him more about his savior. He would meet with this man, be baptized and learn. He would bring his friends, they would understand and become followers of Christ, too. He smiled.
“Someone needs to do something about that,” Henry Swafford told Jimmy Smith, watching the young man. “Come into our church dressed like that! And look at the hair!”
“Is that an earring in his lip?”
“And one in his eyebrow.”
“I’ll take care of this,” Cecil Perkins said to the others, and started up the aisle, fists balled.
An old, well-known voice halted the deacon. “I’ll deal with him.”
The others looked, relieved.
Will Ogden was retired now, slumped and feeble, but he’d taught all of them in their youth. At 76, he still commanded attention and respect, still taught them a thing or two through his insight and love for the Lord. The others fell back and allowed Will-O to start toward the front.
He leaned heavily on his cane as he walked, aware of nods of approval from people he passed. “You get him,” a man said. A woman whispered, “God bless you, Will-O.” He heard comments about ‘appropriate attire’ and ‘distracting piercings’. And he continued to move slowly until he reached the college boy.
The boy looked up.
“Wondered if you’d do something for me? What’s your name?”
“Would you help me out of my suitcoat? It’s too hot for this jacket.” Simon obliged, holding it as Will-O removed his tie, unbuttoned his vest and the top button of his starched, white shirt. “Now,” the deacon said, “scoot on over. You have the right idea about where to sit, son.”
The huge room fell silent as the old man and the college boy sat down together. In the hush, a woman said, “Well, I never!” Will-O made eye-contact with her, and she flushed and dropped her gaze.
After a moment, a child stood, whispered to his mother and walked forward. He sat down beside Simon and introduced himself. A couple and their two small children joined the trio.
A professor walked forward next. She didn’t sit near Simon and the others, instead kneeling at the alter, her tears evidencing her humbled heart. Her quiet sobs and plea of “Forgive me, Lord,” echoed among the crowd.
No one knew who went forward next. It didn’t matter. True worship had finally begun.
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