Church Characters #1: Frances

Dixie Carter played Julia Sugarbaker on the series “Designing Women” She declared in one scene, “I’m saying this is the south. And we’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them in the attic. We bring ‘em right down to the living room and show ‘em off!”

I recall many characters from country churches who personified Ms. Carter’s statement. During a series entitled “Church Characters,” I’m recalling some memorable people from decades of ministry.

Frances belonged to Emory Chapel Methodist near Newnan, Georgia. In her youth, she played the piano at the local theater for silent movies. The elderly matriarch still played at the church on occasion, but the notes oozed like cold molasses in wintertime. A single hymn could last one-third of the service.

I often visited Frances at home with her husband, John. The vain man never wore his hearing aids, so I shouted over the TV. My hostess served sweet tea in dirty glasses while an oscillating fan stirred the musty air.

The couple owned an ornery Chihuahua named Peanut. The mutt took an instant disliking to me. During one pastoral visit, the canine terrorist hiked his leg and baptized my ankle.

Both Frances and John died during my five years at Emory Chapel. Peanut sadly survived.

I sat beside Frances’ hospital bed days before her death. She squeezed my hand tightly and said, “When I die, you tell them at the funeral that I’ve gone on to my glory!”

She did, and I did. Glory hallelujah. Amen.   

Hamilton versus Worship

My wife and I recently saw “Hamilton” at the Fox Theater. The historical musical entertained and enthralled the audience. The pastor-in-me noticed some intriguing attributes about the “congregation.” They:

  • Paid large sums for premium tickets.
  • Saved the date and prioritized their attendance.
  • Arrived an hour before the play started.
  • Parked blocks away and walked to the entrance.
  • Waited in long lines to enter the building.
  • Took their seats before the opening number.  
  • Wore masks inside the building without complaint.  
  • Remained silent and attentive throughout the performance.
  • Sat in uncomfortable seats for over three hours.
  • Envied those who sat closest to the stage.
  • Took selfies to share on social media.
  • Bought merch to proudly advertise their presence.
  • Talked to family and friends about the experience.

May all of God’s people gather for worship this Sunday “in the room where it happens!”

Night Terrors

The parsonage’s security system alarm awoke me from a sound sleep. The digital display indicated a glass breakage alert. I silenced the alarm while talking to the security company.

I cautiously checked the first-floor perimeter but found nothing. Descending the stairs, I forgot about the basement motion detector. I rushed upstairs to silence the alarm again. Meanwhile, strobing blue lights announced the police’s arrival.

I walked outside with empty hands carefully displayed while identifying myself. The officer entered the house and checked the windows and doors.

Then I spied pieces of red latex beside the dining room’s exterior door. The previous night our family celebrated our granddaughter’s third birthday, complete with presents, cake, and balloons.

I suddenly realized what occurred. An overinflated balloon next to a heat vent burst in the middle of the night. The loud noise activated the glass breakage sensor. The officer listened dubiously to the explanation before nodding in agreement.

We all went back to bed, but sleep eluded me the rest of the night. I thought about what might have been and what could be. I recalled Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Many of our worries never occur. Most of our night terrors amount to nothing more than scraps of a red latex balloon.

You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday.

(Psalm 95)

Sermon Block

I have preached on a weekly basis since 1979. After 42 years of homily preparation, I still encounter writer’s block. Words, phrases, and sentences flow like ice-cold molasses in January.

I read “The Plague” by Albert Camus in college. The character of Joseph Grand stuck like a splinter in my mind. The would-be novelist never advanced beyond obsessively rewriting the first line of his book. He believed that perfectly crafting the introductory sentence would guarantee the novel’s success.  

Yes.  This. 

I can mire neck-deep in analysis-paralysis, attempting to find just the right expressions and illustrations. I sometimes say to myself, “I’m going to write the worst sermon in the history of Christendom.” And at the risk of bragging, I have done so on occasion! The method supposedly relieves pressure and inspires creativity.

Human words cannot contain God’s Word, but the Holy Spirit works in, thru, and despite preachers. When I designed my blog site, “Jars of Clay,” Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4:7 inspired the title, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

OK, I’ve procrastinated enough and need to get back to writing a sermon.