Monday, June 29, 2015


Within the coming months, the church that I grew up attending will be torn down.  Developers are paying top dollar for high-priced real estate. They are building apartments - nice apartments by the sound of it. And the church is retaining a small lot on the back end of the property to use as a chapel.

I am finding myself feeling very conflicted about it.

The building is old. The ceilings are too high, and heating costs have got to be through the roof. (See what I did there?) There are unending repairs and additional needs and a diminishing population of people to provide the funds for those repairs.   

But in that church, I heard some of the most amazing music in my life, and developed a love of acoustics and pipe organ music and the raw power of a full chorus. 

I worshipped in that church with my family, sitting in the pew where my grandfather had sat for 80 years.  I heard thundering sermons by Elmer Piper (and discovered that I am not near as much of a hell-and-brimstone Baptist as I had thought I might be) and gentle sermons about a loving God delivered by Jack Causey.  I was baptised there, and played basketball in the recreation building.  I was at church for Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night meetings.  I sang in incredible choirs, taught a three-year-old choir, and even led an evening service during my senior year in high school.

I was also bullied there mercilessly by mean teenagers.  I was condescended to by pinched-faced middle-aged spinsters who disapproved of any evidence of youthful exhuberence.  I was even kicked out of one high school Sunday School class, because I got angry at a teacher for singling me out for a group infraction. (I never went back.  Later that week, I was invited to my granddaddy's SS class, where I stayed for the rest of my time there.)

I fell in love with the old people in the church.  My Sunday school class was co-taught by Harry Lee Thomas and my Granddaddy, Stick Lawton.  And every week, I learned something different about the context and the history of the scriptures from men who lived their faith. I sang with them, I shared times of prayer with them, and attended a number of their funerals.

At PSBC, I met mentors in my faith.  I learned about the Bible.  I developed a relationship with my Creator.  I felt safe and was loved.

And at PSBC, I was betrayed by a pastor, who failed to keep a confidence.

Church will always be a complicated place.  In it, there are people.  Real people. Saints and sinners.  Sweet people and mean.  Some like kids.  Some do not.  Some appreciate the difficulty of fitting in, and will hold a 13-year-old boy's hand while he cries in frustration.  And others ridicule him for not conforming.

So I have a host of mixed emotions and memories about the tearing down of my church building.  The stained glass was nothing intricate, but every time the sermon got long, I would count the number of blue panes, yellow panes, green panes. Those glass panes will be taken down, counted, and sold.  The enormous cathedral ceilings, reverberating sound, will be silenced. The halls through which I ran, the rooms where I crossed arm over arm and said with ten other boys, "As a Royal Ambassador, I will do my best...", those places will be gone. The sanctuary where my sister and I re-created the Pieta for a Good Friday service (getting white grease paint removed from the entire body is tough, in case you were wondering) will be demolished.  The place where I stole kisses from my first girlfriend in dark corners where youth leaders might not have been watching... torn down. The location of my first solo, the place where I attended weddings and funerals and lock-ins and cook-outs and Easter Sunrise services.... Gone.

But the church is not.  Whenever I see an online post of love from Kay Perry or Marty Price,  I see the church, alive and well.  When I read about Kimberly Graham's children or Candace Williamson, or the music that they teach, I know that my church - the one made up of the people who loved and served my Creator - is continuing on.

Nevertheless, I am still sad about losing the building.

Such things happen.  People have moved to other churches, and are doing God's will where they are.  I have been taught all my life that the church (like Soylent Green) is made of people. Even the church history (available on Amazon here) has on the cover "More than a Building - A Family of Faith".  But there is still a location, right there in West Greenville, that holds a sacred place in my memory.  And all those memories - both the highs and the lows - will forever be associated with 'Church' in my mind.
History of PSBC available online here.

I will miss the beautiful building that housed my church during my childhood.



aunt Patty said...

You make me cry. Sometimes in joy and sometimes from sorrow. I will miss it s well.

Elizabeth Henderson said...

Yes, I am crying too…however, you have your memories, and wherever two or more are gathered…there is love. Hugs!