Preaching at the Old Home Church

When people ask me where I’m from I have two standard answers. The first is, “Around.” Since my dad was in the Navy (an itinerant profession) while I was growing up and I am in an itinerant profession, moving is a normal part of life. Five years is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I’m from “around.” My second answer is that my hometown is a small town in southern Illinois, even though I’ve never lived there (unless you count the few weeks I was there staying with relatives while my parents house-hunted in the D.C. area). Centralia is theonly town I’ve been going to all my life.

My grandparents, Floyd & Hazel Heyduck, married in September 1916. Floyd was a member of First Methodist Church, Hazel a member of Demaree Methodist down the road. Instead of fighting over which of their churches to join after marrying, they decided to go to a third church, First Christian (Disciples of Christ). Like Centralia is the only town I’ve been going to all my life, First Christian is the only church I’ve been going to all my life – though I’ve never been a member. It’s the church we go to whenever we’re in town for a Sunday. Some of my earliest memories of church anywhere are of my grandparent’s 50th anniversary held at the church.

Since I’ve become a preacher, I’ve often dreamed of preaching in this old home church (though it’s of a different denomination than my own). This year when I was sending in my reservation for the family reunion I included a note that if they needed a preacher that Sunday I’d be happy to help out. I knew they had an interim pastor and were in the midst of a long search for a full time pastor. I had no idea whether they’d be open to a United Methodist from Texas. They were. As it turned out it was a good thing also – their pastor was in the hospital over the weekend after emergency surgery.

My preaching was well-received in both services. There were even a few double dippers. All the people were gracious and friendly (including my relatives!). It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. Here are a few things I noticed:

1. As I greeted peopel before the service many asked if I was “The Minister” for the day. I knew what they meant, but in light of the prominent display of their slogan, “Welcome to First Christian Church Where Every Believer is a Minister,” I found it a little anomalous. While the church had some strong lay leadership (they have to survive long stretches without a full time pastor), I got the idea many in the pew didn’t think of themselves as Ministers.

2. There were fewer young people than last time I was there. I could say this each time I attend. While there remain many committed people, the energy level seemed low, especially in the second (traditional) service. A quiet, slow-paced, contemplative worship service has value, but in our sleep deprived society it often fails to gain or hold the attention of younger folks.

3. FCC is having difficulty finding a full time pastor. Talking to the people, I got the idea they wanted a younger (at least under 60) pastor, full of energy and creativity. They want someone who preaches in an engaging style, not a manuscript reader. I know none of the dynamics of the DOC denomination, but it sure looks like there’s a shortage of young, energetic pastors who want to go serve in a small, long-established church, in a small town with a declining economy. We who inhabit a pastor-appointing system sometimes complain. In the case of FCC, I can see how such a structure might be beneficial.

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