Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Life in Church

As a baby I think I was christened at the old Tatnall Square Presbyterian Church, on College Street near Mercer University. My parents had just moved from their upstairs apartment not far away on Vineville Avenue to a house on Wimbush Road. Later we attended Forest Hills United Methodist Church in north Macon for a few years.

Northminster Presbyterian Church was meeting across the street from our house on Wimbush, at the Seventh Day Adventist Church. On Sunday mornings we would get dressed up and walk over for Sunday School and church. Eventually Northminster's buildings were finished a half mile down the street. One day a week instead of walking home from Rosa Taylor Elementary I would walk straight to Northminster for children's choir, led by goateed director Jim Davidson (in the mid-1980's I chaperoned a SPdL children's choir trip to Rock Eagle, and ran into Jim at breakfast). At the age of 13 I attended confirmation class, and was again sprinkled in front of the church. I remember skipping down the aisle on Palm Sunday in my white choir robe, waving palm branches back and forth.

As a young teen in the early 70's the high school choir sang peppy musicals like Celebrate Life. I had to get a tank top to wear. The house across the street was converted into a youth house, and muttonchop sideburned Jim McNaul was hired as the youth director. I loved his sense of humor, and hung around him whenever possible. We'd go on youth retreats to Rock Eagle and a memorable trip to Busch Gardens and Disney World. One summer I attended a Presbyterian youth camp at Alexander Stephens State Park in Crawfordville. Jim later worked at Clairemont Hills Presbyterian in Atlanta.

Once as a kid I decided it would be fun to turn the lights on and off in the restroom. When I did I heard a voice gently ask me to not do that. It was Pastor Charles Hasty, who served at the church for years. Eventually he was replaced by Pastor Horne, who had played football at Clemson. He brought along two sons my age. I had grown up with many kids there at Northminster: David Sluder, Raymond Smith, Lisa Hasty, Stephen Hill, and others. Up to this point in my life church was a place to go just to have fun and be with friends.

In tenth grade I became interested in a girl who attended Northside Christian Church, not far from where we had moved in north Macon. I started attending NCC, and my family soon followed. In 1975 we were all baptized there on Easter Sunday. I could feel the Holy Spirit in my life, and made an effort to live a changed life.

Northside was smaller than Northminster, making it easier to know more people. Former Little league teammate Ray Hughes went there with his family. Danny Brooks hired me as a summer intern at the chemical company he ran. Randy Sebula played a mean piano. Upperclassman Bill Jackson later married my former girlfriend's sister. I was one of the youngest on the church softball team. I collected my first inside the park home run, and got thrown out of a game when one umpire didn't realize I was joking around with the other ump.

We had a small youth choir. Every summer we'd go to Six Flags. One year I attended a youth camp in Villa Rica. I didn't know we were supposed to wear nice clothes the last night of camp, so I had to borrow Bill Jackson's outfit. When I showed up at the service everyone cheered my outfit. I think I gave my testimony that night. Every fifth Sunday NCC had youth lead the evening service. One year I preached the sermon.

I often wonder how I would've turned out had I stayed in Macon or gone to UGA instead of Tech, would God have done the work in and through me. Seems almost by chance that I landed at Tech. It wasn't like I had planned for years to go there. My dad didn't want to see me just hang around town going to the junior college.

As a freshman at Tech I saw Peachtree Christian Church near WSB at the corner of Spring and Peachtree, and decided to attend. After the service a lady in front of me fell and broke her arm. I attended to her, then slipped out the door – never to return.

I fell into the crowd at the Baptist Student Union, and went to Wieuca Road Baptist with my best friend from high school. Doug Maag was an excellent Sunday School teacher, who impacted college students for several decades. Bill Self wove interesting sermons.

But by the spring of my freshman year I was hanging out with the Tech crowd who attended Second-Ponce: Yearwood, Wayne Smith, Don Sells, Wayne Price, Fred-O, John Rose, and others. I started playing Sunday School volleyball, and by the fall of 1978 I attended SPdL full time. Bob Marsh was the new pastor, and I joined the huge Chapel Choir.

The college department was led by Craig Mackenzie and Frank Gudger. I was adopted by the Whitaker family, and we built a relationship that's spanned almost 40 years. I went on three Chapel Choir tours: two to Colorado and one to upstate New York. I served as a counselor on youth retreats and attended Camp SPdL for ten years.

I played on the same church softball team, the "SPdL Blues" for 14 straight years, with Wayne Smith, David Hurt, Steve Norman, Jerome, David McKeithen, Ernie Garrison, Noel Turner, Val Robinson, Don Head, and the Small brothers. Once we turned a triple play. I manned left field. Once after making two diving catches to start an inning, David Hurt made a diving catch for the third out.

After graduating from Tech I moved from the Chapel Choir to the adult choir. I "acted" in various musicals, including Living Pictures and the Christmas Pageant. In Living Pictures I was Doubting Thomas, the disciple seated to Jesus' immediate left, with his finger pointing up. Craig MacKenzie was Jesus. John Rainer sang Behold the Man. In another scene Kelly McBurney said "They've taken my Savior and I don't know where he is"? I was in that scene, as one of the people huddled around the fire. I had to carry out the little electrical fake fire, and turn it on.

In the Atlanta Christmas Pageants I think I was just singing, though in one pageant I had to dress like Dutch guy, with shorts, long socks (lederhosen?), and those suspender-type things, for the "Christmas around the World" part of the program.

I was one of the "actors" who performed Elijah with the esteemed David Ford. I was one of the "actors" in that as well. I was one of the people calling to Bale in the "Hear and Answer" song. Me and Buddy Brinkley. Jerome played the guy chosen to carry the cross. David Hurt was a Roman guard. I probably have some of those old programs stashed away somewhere at home.

In one of those musicals I was supposed to have a beard, around 1983. I hadn't realized I was supposed to be growing one, so I started late. Fred O kept telling me to work hard at growing it faster. They wound up adding dark makeup to my face so my beard would look fuller.

I gave the announcements in the singles department, and attended classes taught by Steve Norman and David Hubert. The Hubert's hosted a popular Monday Night Fellowship and Tuesday we'd go out on visitation. The singles would go to Ridgecrest every Labor Day and take another trip to St Simons or Gulf Shores. Later I served as director in the senior high Sunday School, and Ceil taught the girls class. Served on Advisory Council and eventually became a deacon. I was still single when I was on advisory council (before 1987). I was already married when I became a deacon.

We started having kids in the late 90's. We joined the young adult Sunday School class, but really didn't fit in. We had served for years, and all our friends worked with the youth, taught Sunday School, or sang in the choir. Marsh had left. Jim Dennison came and went, followed by David Sapp. Around that time my company considered me for a position in Charleston. We shopped for houses and after twenty years said our goodbyes at SPdL.

At the last minute we decided to stay in Atlanta. I transferred to an up and coming department led by a committed believer. With young kids commuting the twenty miles to SPdL had been tough, making Wednesday nights a real chore. We looked for a church closer to home. I felt quite uncomfortable walking into new churches as a visitor. We tried Johnson Ferry, East Cobb Presbyterian, Cobb Community Church, Fellowship Bible Church, Woodstock First Baptist, and others. We knew people at all these places, but couldn't find one that felt right.

I had many apprehensions about North Point Community Church, mostly due to what I'd heard through the grapevine. But when we walked in, before we had even sat down I felt a peace I hadn't felt anywhere else. The music wasn't hokey, but most of all the preaching was purposeful, supported by Scripture, and to the point.

Our kids liked North Point as well. After the main service families would gather for KidStuf, a well-done children's hour. We attended KidStuf for years, but no one could match the cast from the two years. Most of them went on to lead vital ministries around town and across the country. One of them became the leader of our small group. Our kids had teachers who moved up with them year after year.

Eventually we migrated with our kids to Passion City Church, and later Johnson Ferry Baptist.

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