Many say they’ve grown-up in church. Maybe you did. I doubt however that your experience is similar to Anthony’s story.
In a small rural community, there was a family overflowing with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. The women planned endless family gatherings while the men worked together. Cousins sat side-by-side in school; then played collectively afterwards. The clan even lived within a few blocks of each other. On one road, all but three houses belonged to family.
One day, one of the women announced, “I’ve accepted Jesus as my Savior; I’m leaving the Catholic Church.”
Their spiritual foundation was shattered. Religious debates became the norm. Slowly, others decided to embrace the profound freedom they had uncovered in scripture. These young believers held prayer meetings in their homes. Eventually the men built a church a quarter of a mile away. They elected a family member as pastor, others as deacons, some as Sunday school teachers, and musicians.
Ultimately, they outgrew that building. Someone gave-up part of their land for a new church, this time, in the middle of the block where they lived.
Young and old alike worked around the new building. They maintained the lawn and gardens, cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed, washed floors, even polished the pews. It became their family monument.
Some of the children wore pajamas to the lengthy evening services in order to sleep on the pews. Others did their homework. Older children had to sing or give testimonies. Literally, they grew-up in and around the church.
Whenever weather permitted, the children played outdoors. Usually one non-related neighbor joined them. Anthony lived next-door to the church, hearing the services on still summer nights, but forbidden to enter by his family.
Often the children played church. Lawn chairs were pews, lined up in rows. They improvised a piano, organ, air guitars, and collection plates. Occasionally water and Wonder bread became communion. The children made-do with whatever was on hand. However, they never played without one prop, the pulpit.
After setting-up a sanctuary, they assigned parts. The most coveted roles were that of song leader and the pastor. Sometimes they argued over the lead roles. Ultimately, everyone took a turn at the pulpit, except Anthony.
“You can’t lead songs or be pastor because you don’t even go to real church. You’re not a Christian. You always have to be the sinner that gets saved,” they insisted. “You have to raise your hand during the altar call and walk to the front to say the sinner’s prayer. Maybe you can give a testimony afterwards, but you cannot be at the pulpit! It’s against the rules.”
Their rules crushed Anthony. It was bad enough that his family tried to squelch his religious hunger, but to have the children also restrict his participation in pretend church was devastating.
“But I do believe in God… I want to go to church,” he pleaded, to no avail. “And I know I can be a good pastor.” He campaigned to deaf ears.
“Never!” they taunted.
Denied any other role, Anthony played the sinner so well that his conversion prayers sounded real. His only Bible knowledge came from what the children preached at their pretend pulpit. He absorbed every word and nuance, wanting what they had.
Once Anthony became a teenager, he rebelled against his family. “You can’t stop me anymore from going to church,” he argued. He spent every possible moment at the church, volunteering, and growing spiritually. He studied diligently for years. Finally, he got his chance to stand at the pulpit, as the assistant pastor.
After commemorating fifty years of service, the senior pastor retired. Anthony always believed he would pastor that church. Surprisingly, the same children that had denied him access to their pulpit again rejected his request. Heartbroken, he left. Two pastors later, they realized their mistake, asking Anthony to unify the split church as their senior pastor.
Decades have passed. Several of the family’s children grew-up to pastor in other states or be missionaries overseas. Anthony stayed at their home church, leading with innovative ideas, an infusion of new people, and a fresh look for the aging building.
While the church celebrated its greatest days, Anthony, at fifty-six, received shocking news.
“We’re sorry Anthony, you have terminal cancer.”
Folks assumed he’d give up his pulpit. Instead, after treatments, he returns to share his uplifting faith* and positive outlook. Anthony continues to find new life at the pulpit where he grew-up and first believed.
God speed dear neighbor…
*“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
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