By Bradley Robertson
I was raised in a small, country church in Little Texas, Alabama. “Where exactly is that?” people ask. “Well it’s just outside of town, over the hill, down a dirt road, across the paved highway and just beyond the outdoor tabernacle on your right.”
And there you’ll find Union Christian Church. A palace of sorts, where I met Jesus every week from the time I was a baby until I married at 24. Except for my childhood home, there is not a place in my soul that holds more treasure than this church, jewels of silver and gold forever stored in my heart that can never be taken from me.
Union was filled with white-headed, southern ladies and their kind country husbands. It was loaded with smiles and hugs and hymns and candy. The spread of casseroles for Sunday fellowship was close to a hundred and the delight in my existence as a child of God was never overlooked.
I went to church with women called Mrs. Betty, Aunt Fan, Mama Joy, Pauline and Bernice. They all loved me and they all wore bright pink lipstick. Mrs. Betty wore scarves around her neck. Aunt Fan was known for her caramel cake, and Pauline was gentle, always accompanied by her jolly husband George. Mama Joy was the Mother Theresa of Union, and Bernice was one of her best friends.
My father sang in the tiny choir and I sat with my sister and mother every Sunday, squashed into wooden pews, covered in green velvet cloth. Little Mrs. Margie sat next to us. I believe she was under five feet tall and she had her very own foot stool that never left its spot beneath the pew.
Mrs. Rosa and Harold sat just behind us and they would often invite me to sit with them. Rosa and Harold always made me feel warm and loved. This was the thing at Union; I was always invited to be part of something greater and beyond my expectation.
My older brother Joe sat in the very front row by himself. I can still see the back of his head facing the preacher. I do not know if I longed to sit with him or if maybe I was just keeping tabs on everyone, for I noticed the entire church in attendance. Everyone was always there. Always.
At least that’s how I remember it.
You do not know the impact something small and subtle has on your life until one day it’s missing. One day, when you least expect it, a connection you felt forever will be gone. And oddly, you won’t even know what it is.
It’s kind of like when you stop picking up children to hold. You don’t know when it happens or document it, but after a certain number of days, you think to yourself, “Shep hasn’t asked me to pick him up…” Then you see and know that time has moved on, and that connection you once had is gone.
I began to feel this emptiness about 10 weeks after the beginning of quarantine life. When churches closed, our Sundays were spent relaxing on porch swings, cooking breakfast and planting seeds for summer harvest. We often went to the river to play or hung out at our pond. This was wonderful and all, but after a while, Sunday showed up missing. The day was still there, but it wasn’t the Sunday I knew.
I wanted my Sunday back. I wanted a pew and hymns and smiles and Jesus.
Out of nowhere one Sunday morning, the husband said, “Everybody get up. We’re gettin’ dressed today and we’re going to church!”
The kids began their usual inquisitive riot while I sat in bed sipping coffee wondering, “Where in the world is this man taking us?”
We all did as we were told. We ate breakfast and shimmied all over the house with a little pep and thrill like Christmas morning. (We were going to meet Jesus, so to speak.) Shep put on his favorite blazer and I was filled with the spirit as I donned my favorite summer gown of blue and white. The Farmer placed his Fedora on his head, picked up his bible and off we set to an unknown place called Sardis.
We pulled up to a white church just south of the Lake Martin community. The parking lot held about 10 cars and we each had to wear a mask to enter. We were greeted on the front porch by the only person there my husband knew, Pastor Steve. I had never met the man before, but Isaac remembered him from his youth.
Now how in the world my husband connected with this man from long ago and ended up here on this day is nothing short of divine intervention. Walking into Sardis was like stepping right back into my Little Texas church.
Greetings and smiles, which could be felt and seen beneath masks. Wooden pews and red hymnals. Light shining in front doors and beaming through windows. I felt a peace and spirit that had not been brought before me in months. I knew not a soul but felt right at home.
“Is this what heaven may feel like?” I ask myself today. Will it be like entering the unknown yet feeling that it is the perfect place to be. Could this be a hint of the Kingdom of God? This Sardis?
“Come. Have a seat right here. Rest. No need to do anything at all. Just be here…”
I cry now to sit and think about it. Are we perhaps so busy to fix and do more that we have missed the simplicity of Holy Love?
Oh, let’s not miss it dear friends. Let us please not miss it. God says it only takes a mustard seed. It is that one, tiny seed of faith and hope that delivers love into the world, and that love is peace.