One God, Many Churches

In 1998 the District Superintendent of the United Methodist District where I was serving retired from active ministry.  Some of us felt bad for him since he had chosen to retire from a district instead of a church where he could receive the love and celebratory response of a congregation.  So, we planned a little celebration for him during which we showed a video that had been up to me to put together.  We contacted the churches this pastor had served over his career, and asked them to video some of the people of those congregations giving him a message of love and well-wishes.  I found appropriate music and got a friend who had the know how to edit the whole thing for me, making it a seamless story of this man’s ministry.

One of the places he had served had been a multiple point charge (several churches under one pastor) near Wytheville, Virginia.  When we got the video from there, it included a song sung by one of the congregants, who I was just sure he would recognize, but as it turned out he couldn’t remember her, and indeed had not ever heard the song.  So it was a little misapplied, yet it struck me as a song of deep meaning.  The words were (as it turns out, a Stanley Brother’s tune):

You go to your church and I’ll go to mine
But let’s walk along together
Our fathers built them side by side
So let’s walk along together

The road is rough and the way is long
But we’ll help each other over
You go to your church and I’ll go to mine
But let’s walk along together

You go to your church and I’ll go to mine
But let’s walk along together
Our Heavenly Father is the same
So let’s walk along together

The Lord will be at your church today
But he’ll be at my church also
You go to your church and I’ll go to mine
But let’s walk along together

This song tells the story of American Christianity.  Here religion was done on an individual basis (after much trial and error).  Many groups of people came here to practice religious freedom.  Here they found an environment where it was possible to do that, albeit sometimes difficult.

My home community had seven churches in it while I was growing up.  Our Methodist Church sat on the hill on the upper end of the valley, the missionary baptist sat on the opposite hill across the valley facing us.  The freewill baptists built down at the road that crossed the valley lengthwise.  A Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church was formed at the east side, and an Apostolic church was formed that met in a building right in the heart of the community’s business district.  A non-denominational church was formed not far from there, originally to try and force an establishment out of business that wanted to serve alcohol.  Down the valley a piece was a Primitive Baptist Church, and up the valley the other way was a sister church to it.

The heart of the downtown of Kingsport, Tennessee is a tribute to ecclesiastical diversity:  Church Circle.  Four congregations face the famous historic circle, and are surrounded by other congregations within short distance.  I don’t know if it was ever said, but in that town wherever you could swing a dead cat, you would likely hit a church.  We were a religious people.  Deeply independent and deeply religious.

One of the formative times of my youth was spent exploring the meaning behind all the different churches in my home area.  I entered into conversation with folks from several different denominations and learned from them what was important in their churches.  I talked to baptists, lutherans, presbyterians, catholics, and Christian pastors and volunteers.  What I gained was a perspective that helped me make a decision to embrace my own church’s tradition.  All these ways we follow are different human responses to the love of the One God.  That God would create such diversity within humanity has become a source of wonder for me.  I love to experience different ways of worship.  Of course I’m much more comfortable in my own, but it helps me to move beyond that into other expressions.  I learn from them, and my spirit is enriched.

Today we are being challenged by people of no faith at all.  They also need to be understood before we pounce on them and decry their veiwpoints.  I am challenged by them.  I wonder how anyone can come to a viewpoint that there is no God when I have experienced God’s love and grace with such assurance in my life that it undeniable.  Yet it is important to hear their concerns.  It makes me a better Christian.  Jesus told us to love everybody, even folks we consider enemies.  I am not comfortable labeling non-believers enemies, but if there are some among them who want to destroy my faith I suppose they are enemies.  But my response is to love them, understand them, and respect their right to their viewpoint.  I hope I can do that.  With God’s help I can.

The Chilhowee Primitive Baptist Church, nickna...

The Chilhowee Primitive Baptist Church, nicknamed “Red Top,” in Happy Valley, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The church was constructed 1905-1906. Its cemetery contains the graves of the valley’s earliest settlers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

About Brad Scott

An Appalachian CrossFitter who loves Jesus and is happily married to Tammie. I have a son and a fine little grandson. In the peak of middle age, trying to figure out the rest of this journey.
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