Pastor Bob Knowles preached as sermon on Sunday in which he asked us to think back and recall the first time we set foot in New Minas Baptist Church, and consider the discomfort and fear that accompanied of that moment The point being that we often forget what it felt like to be “stranger,” so we should refresh our memories so that we can better reach a hand out to those who are experiencing that same apprehension of entering NMBC for the first time.
I remember that moment clearly. I was an unrepentant atheist/humanist, and the only reason I was there was because I was dating someone who went to church there. We sat about five rows from the back on the far left as you walk into the sanctuary. A young boy with very very VERY red hair was sitting directly in front of me, and there were three teenagers up on the stage - one guy on guitar and two accompanying young ladies, singing a song about a secret, quite place where they wanted to meet Jesus. The upbeat, contemporary style made me think that hanging out here wasn’t too bad. Good music is good music, whether it’s religious or not. After they left, some guy who looked a little like Will Riker from Star Trek:TNG started talking about something or other - I really wasn’t paying attention.
Then another singer took the stage, and when he started singing, he blew me away! He sounded a little like a cross between Kenny Rogers and Phil Collins. And like Phil Collins, he played the drums while he sang. I was extremely impressed. I leaned into Marsha’s ear and whispered something like, “This guy’s REALLY good!” I definitely wasn’t expecting that much talent at a church, and he just reinforced my thought that coming here on Sunday mornings wasn’t going to be such a pain after all.
Then the minister hit the stage, and asked anyone who was visiting for the first time to raise their hand so someone could bring you a pamplet or something, and a free pen. I though to myself, “Wow. A pen. Big whoopity ding.” I didn’t put my hand up, and I gave Marsha a poison glare when she started to put her hand up on my behalf. She quickly put it back down.
There followed some praying, and a sermon about who-knows-what. I just sat there counting how many times he said “friends.” Just about ever second sentence began with “Friends….” “Friends, we are here to bla-bla-bla.” “Friends, the world is a scary place.” “Friends, I want you to understand something or other.” I also started counting the number of times he asked himself a hypothetical question and answered himself with, “Absolutely.” “Friends, are there going to be rough seas? Absolutely. Friends, do I say ‘friends’ too much? Absolutely.” I had stopped listening to him at around 64 “friends” and 42 “absolutelies.”
When the show was over, we met the minister at the door. He asked how Marsha was, and that he hadn’t seen her for a while. He also asked about Marsha’s friend, Tammy. “How is your friend - what was her name? - How’s Tammy doing. I haven’t seen her in a VERY long time.” Marsha made some excuses on Tammy’s behalf, and then introduced me to the pastor. Good to meet you, come again, have a good week, bla-bla-bla. I was anxious to get out of there and make a Tim’s run.
And thus ended my first service at NMBC. Over the years following my conversion/baptism, I came to know and love those strangers I’d seen that day. The young man on guitar, that morning, was Nick Schofield, and he was accompanied by Becky Hildebrand and Pam Jamieson. The love child of Kenny Rogers and Phil Collins turned out to be Paul Fowler, who sings as great today as he did 9 years earlier. Will Riker’s name was actually Chris Austin, and the minister was Terry Atkinson. The woman I was with was, of course, Marsha who became my wife some two years later
I hope that recollection doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I came to love Pastor Terry’s preaching style, etc - those were just my thoughts at that time.
So, what was your first time like? If you can think of anything the people could have done to make you feel more comfortable, then that’s what we need to do for others.