We are traveling a familiar road, Certain Man and I. I knew when we set out on this Deacon call that we would be going this way, but I was not prepared.
We came around the curve and came up a small hill. Far away in the distance, the lights of our church building shone through the Sunday evening cold. It took my breath away.
“There are lights??? At the church???” I asked Certain Man.
“Sure are!” He replied in his off-handed way. “They’ve had them on ever since they got electric back in after the fire.”
“But how???” I am still more than a little incredulous. “The lights were all taken down!”
“Oh, they just strung them up however they could. They want lights on, especially at night.”
We come on down the road, closer and closer to the church, and my eyes drink in the light shining out of every window. As we get closer, it was plain that the lights are from various wires, strung all over the empty, gutted church. Up close, it isn’t half as beautiful as it was from the distance. I look hurriedly and hungrily through the dusty windows. It is full of light, but without life.
I am sad and reflective on my side of The Silver Chariot. “I’ve not been in,” I say quietly.
“What??? You’ve not been in since the fire???” I feel Certain Man’s disbelief spearing me through the darkness.
“Why not???” There was so much coming and going in the days following the fire, so much traffic from our house in particular with Certain Man being the first on the scene from our congregation and then both Eldest Daughter and Middle Daughter playing a part in the aftermath and the clean-up that it had been so easy to hide the fact that I didn’t go.
I feel the tears welling up in my eyes. “Because,” I almost whisper. “I just didn’t think I could bear it.”
“Well, Hon, I think you need to go,” says my steady spouse. “I really think it’s something you should do.”
“Why? I feel so terribly sad, and it is something I just don’t want to see. Maybe after it is all fixed up, I won’t hate it so much. But for now, I have no desire to go in and see it.”
He doesn’t push me, and we stop at the four-way stop sign at the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Road and then go on. I sit in the dark and think about this church family that I call “mine” and I think about the strength and courage and grace and forgiveness that has marked these days since that early morning call on December 2, 2014. Our people have not wallowed about in despair or self pity or been immobilized by this bump in the road. They are still gathering for worship, encouraging one another, doing the things that have been a part of our lives for so many years. We are still praying, singing, giving to needs outside the congregation, some of us are teaching Sunday School, some are volunteering at Stevenson House, some are preparing and delivering sermons, and last week, in the middle of the coldest, icy-est, darkest time of our winter, most of us gathered together for renewal meetings and the majority of us didn’t miss a night. And this doesn’t cover the everyday lives of our people who work and play and raise families and maintain their homefires.
And so I remind myself that we are not defined by that damaged church house there on a country road in Kent County, Delaware. These people are The Church, and though we are certainly re-evaluating and seeking to hear what God is saying to us through these difficult times, we are very aware that God has something so good for us through this fire that has truly proved to be a Refiner’s Fire.
And while I may shed some quiet tears when I look at a building that holds the church memories of almost 50 of my 61 years, I will not hang my heart on a structure that can, well — be destroyed. This made me think about a passage in 2 Corinthians that goes something like this:
5 1-5 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. (The Message)
And so, when it is all said and done, it isn’t a church structure. It isn’t even these earthly bodies that are so prone to letting us down. The Hope is in that Home that will not be destroyed. Heaven.
How my soul wants that to happen! Job 19:27b