Occasionally I have documented my frequent crises in faith here on my blog. As someone who views the world with a critical eye, those glaring contradictions in religious teaching and religious practice seem to stand out even the more and have caused me to shy away from organized religion. But as one raised in the church, as a scion of a family of ministers, the guilt of being out of church, of being outside the circle of fellowship always weighs heavily on my mind.
Yet, I’ve come to terms with this. After going from church to church and being thoroughly dismayed at what I’ve found, after watching the church seemingly change its mission and focus away from the more pressing needs of the community and toward more secular and political ends, after watching Christians seemingly become more critical and condemning of supposed sinners and not the sin, all the while ignoring their own propensity toward hypocrisy, I have chosen to follow Christ and not men; I have chosen to worship God in deed and not rhetoric while all the while praying and reading my Bible and seeking the Truth.
However, I always get tongue tied when faced with that one question: “Just where is your church home?”. That old feeling of guilt returns when I am forced to answer that I don’t have a church home. They become impatient and incredulous and, more often than not, insulted when I attempt to explain why.
But then on last evening during a moment of prayerful contemplation, I had a sudden revelation. My mind traveled back over a span of time to a specific moment in my life. And I realized that I do have a church home and have had one for quite some time.
In 1972, I joined and was baptized into the Cane Creek Road Missionary Baptist Church in the small, rural enclave of Bemis, Tennessee, right outside Jackson, Tennessee. That was the same year that a visiting church caused a scandal when, in the middle of a hymn, they jazzed it out a bit and began to sway in time with the music.
That year Cane Creek Road Missionary Baptist Church was an old turn of the century clapboard building that sat at the end of a long, winding, dusty, unpaved rural road. I don’t remember how the building was heated during the winter, but I do remember that during the summer, the deacons opened the windows in a vain attempt to catch a breeze from the outside while a row of rotating fans hanging from the ceiling did all they could.
But it seemed to never be enough because everyone, all the sisters in the church anyway, always seemed to be fanning themselves with those paddle like fans with advertisements for Stephenson-Shaw Funeral Home one side and a big picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Kennedy on the other. And from my family’s place in the pews, out of the raised window I could see the cemetery adjacent to the church where generations and generations of my family were buried, where my grandfather and grandmother are now buried, where I have instructed my wife to spread my ashes in the event of my demise.
Cane Creek Missionary Baptist Church is the church my grandparents were married in. It is also the church in which my mother and her siblings were raised and baptized in and married in. And it is the church in which my first and most basic concepts of religion and Christianity were formed.
It is where I learned that love and not hate was the most important Christian message, that Christ has no respect of person, of position. It is where I learned the concept of community. It is where I learned to recognize and acknowledge and acknowledge the humanity in every human being.
The service was not aired on the radio or televised; perhaps no one even knew of the church’s existence outside those in the immediate community. But for that handful of people the church did reach, the experience was real. On Sunday morning and throughout the week, the church served God by serving the community from the highest member down to the very lowest member.
Its purpose, its mission, was one of uplift. It was there to provide solace and a place of respite to those trying to make the most out of an already precarious and complicated existence. And if I am not mistaken, despite my time away, despite the distance separating me from the brick and mortar edifice, I am still a member of that church; I have never abdicated my membership.
So, it took me a while to remember, to recall, but I do have a church home.