Well, it finally happened! After 2 years of God stirring up Curtis and Amanda and spooning them onto the same ministry page and after six months of praying and planning with a core group of believers, Bayou City Fellowship blew open its doors last Sunday, September 11th. On so many levels, it was the Sunday of my life…and, just so you know, I’ve loved me some Sundays. You’ve got no hater here. Ink can’t convey what growing up in the church meant to a child who’d come from early victimization and was all but paralyzed by fear and insecurity. I know my story is not everyone’s but, for me, church was a safe place. A happy place. A lively place even long before the days of praise bands and raised hands. It was there in that small circle of Sunday school chairs in Arkadelphia, Arkansas that I met the love of my life. It was there that I memorized my first Bible verses and, there, my head plunged beneath the waters of baptism at the ripe old age of nine.
If I’m counting them right, I’ve belonged to about 6 or 7 churches in my 54 years and most of those changes were necessary because of moves. I can’t say that a single one of them was intolerable. If you’ve been around the LPM blog very long, you may know how dearly I loved HFBC and what tears I shed in saying goodbye to the church where I’d worshipped for almost 30 years. At first the sense of lostness was palpable. Then, suddenly, as I crouched with other believers way out on that limb, in the throes of desperate prayer, and complete dependence on God for this infant church, it was like quart of Red Bull started coursing through my veins. People would ask from time to time, “Are you guys scared?” Well, alive is more like it. Alive and AWAKE.
It’s been one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been part of. Many of you who have been involved in church plants have said the same thing. I guess one reason is because it’s just so out there. History can’t make it float. Heritage can’t make it float. Habit can’t make it float. Only Jesus can make it float. If He does not shine His face upon us, we will fizzle out like a year-old sparkler on the 4th of July. The other big thing from a personal standpoint, making it so exhilarating is the band of new relationships. How often does somebody make 50 new friends without getting on Facebook? I know at least 20 children’s names and they know mine. OK. So I have candy in my purse. Is that against anybody’s religion??
Sunday two weeks ago, we had our BCF dress rehearsal. Everybody on the core team has at least one job to do so we got there early and into our places. (The first wave at 7:00 AM. The second wave at 8:30. That’s my wave. Service begins at 10:00.) I’m on the host team so we mostly practiced welcoming each other at dress rehearsal and we taste-tested the coffee at our makeshift coffee bar. Other teams were practically as busy at dress rehearsal as they’d be on opening day. The utility team and the children’s team require the most hands on deck because they have to set up and tear down every week. God graced us lavishly with space to rent at Houston Christian High School (Beltway 8, close to Hammerly – a gorgeous school and a great one). So, on these Sundays, halls and gyms transform into children’s areas with bright primary colors, songs, sounds of laughter, and stories about a great big God and a Savior who could walk on water. A Man who could take one boy’s lunch and feed thousands. Someone who said, “Don’t hold back those children from me! They’re what the Kingdom of God is all about!” We feel like God gave us one of the most gifted couples in our entire area to head up our children’s ministry. I pray for Dustin and Cassi second in line only to Curtis and Amanda. I wondered if they’d be overwhelmed on opening Sunday but their team was prepared, all the children welcomed and well cared for, and I saw nothing but smiles as I picked up Jackson and Annabeth.
Oops. I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll back up and give you a short run-down of our first Sunday from the pitifully biased point of view of Blonder Than She Pays To Be:
I got there a few minutes behind schedule because I’d asked special grace from the pastor’s wife. Saturday’s simulcast in Lubbock made for a pretty late Saturday night so, by the time I got to the church, everything was already in high gear. This was the scene at the welcome center for the children. As you can see, we were getting a few things ironed out before our guests arrived.
We met for prayer in the gym and, after our pastor asked us to get in small groups and agree in focused intercession, one of our team members also requested that we gather around Curtis, lay hands on him and call out to God in his behalf. It was such a powerful time that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I could get tears in my eyes just thinking about it. At this point, you realize that we didn’t even know for certain that anybody else was coming. We were “in the presence of the God in whom [we] believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17 ESV)
After prayer, we all scurried to our places. Mine last Sunday was beside those at the front door to the chapel. I will work in the children’s area pretty regularly but, when I’m in big church, I get to be on the team that welcomes people. I always wanted to be on the welcoming committee at HFBC so I’m ecstatic about my new job. I get to serve in this capacity as long as I don’t clog up an aisle or a door so I intend to stay light on my feet on Sundays and move from place to place. (I have promised Curtis and Amanda that I will not let BCF become a place for signing books or taking pictures. I just want to be a fellow church-servant so badly. On our first Sunday, that’s exactly what I got to be! A good sign indeed.)
I wish you could have seen the host team and I staring through the glass doors for signs of guests. Sure enough, by 9:30 they were coming. To say that we tripped over one another to welcome people is an understatement. Mind you, we’d been planning this moment for 6 months. It might be safe to say that there were some among the host team who were willing to elbow others to get to the guests first. I’ll not mention any names but, if I remember right, I think her initials were BM.
Side note: Someone who will remain nameless but is related to me had brought donuts for the team to dress rehearsal the week before and I couldn’t eat one because of a bread-fast I was observing for the simulcast. I could not WAIT to sink my teeth into a warm Shipley’s on our opening morning and, lo and behold, no one brought any. I said to my son-in-law Colin, “I’m starving for a donut.” (A sick exaggeration, of course.) He said, “I don’t have a donut but I do have some peanut M&M’s. Would that do?” In a pinch, YES!
At the exact moment I threw a handful in my mouth, our first guest walked through the door. Not to be outdone, I flew over there, chewing as fast as I could, and greeted her with great enthusiasm and with tiny chips of brilliant red, blue, and green lodged between the opening teeth of my lifelong overbite. In hindsight, I wish I’d waited. I saw a piece of peanut on her shoulder after I hugged her. I wanted to swat it off but I was afraid she’d think that I thought she had dry scalp. It was a lose-lose. Another of our team members was equally enthusiastic. She showed us later how she’d nearly wrapped herself like a pretzel around the first guest she got to greet. (Don’t be scared to visit. If we can’t bring ourselves to settle down some over the next few weeks, we overzealous ones are prepared to take medication. Or have it forced upon us. Maybe we could wear a relaxation patch of some kind.)
Then I looked inside the chapel – still about 25 minutes before the service – and spied two women from the back with really cute gray hair. I descended upon them like a seagull dive-bombing a surf. We are hoping to no end that God will build BCF into a multigenerational body of believers so gray was one of our favorite colors last Sunday. If we don’t turn out with many senior adults, I’ll pray about letting my hair go its natural color. And I feel utterly certain that God will say no.
Their names were Irma and Joanne. I’m talking about the two women in the chapel. Stay with me here. And, are you ready for this? They are SIESTAS. Yep. Siestas. They live in Houston and knew about Bayou City Fellowship through our blog. In fact, I do not doubt they are reading this right now. Hi, Irma! Hi, Joanne! I loved meeting you both! Are you coming back this Sunday? Huh? Huh? I, of course, asked them if they’d be coming to our SSMT celebration but Irma said she’d found so many verses to be a bit daunting. I bet many of you can relate. But I told her the same thing I’m telling you: it’s not too late! Choose a psalm with 20 verses and get busy!
Back to BCF. The host team got the chance to welcome many people on Sunday. We think we had about 500 in all, counting the children. We were ecstatic. It was the perfect size for our first Sunday because we had a room full of worshippers without being overwhelmed. Our praise to God knows no bounds. Our whole family was involved. I wish I could see your faces when I tell you that Melissa manned the coffee bar. She did a splendid job, but when she ran out of half and half, you’d have thought we were on the edge of Armageddon. The Texas Pecan coffee was other-worldly in my opinion but she quipped, “WITH NO HALF AND HALF???” I agreed. It was unheard of. I just adore her. No one on earth is like her. Colin, Melissa’s man, was extremely busy because he is on the utility team, setting up and tearing down. (She is, too, by the way.) During the service, Colin passed one of the offering plates and, honestly, if I loved him more, I’d throw my back out. I would not trade him for anything on the planet. Melissa sat on one side of our hard-working pastor’s wife. (Don’t get me going on the pastor’s wife. It will put me over the edge. She is taking her place right beside her man and I am so impressed with God through her that I hardly know how to handle it. I have begun to call her First Lady. She has failed to acknowledge the honorific, however.) My older sister, Gay, sat on Amanda’s other side. It is a picture that will be engraved on my mind as long as I have memory. I sat on the other side of my sister and Keith sat next to me. And his handsome twenty-two year old nephew sat next to him. And it’s very likely that any unattached young woman within five years of him wished she were sitting hitherto.
Well, Girlfriend. Curtis preached.
I do mean Curtis PREACHED.
And I got a word.
And many of us rededicated our lives. I’m not being facetious. I really did. 54 is no time to shove everything over to the young. They need you to stick with them. And, oh, Lord, have mercy, I NEED THEM. I’ve hardly known what to do with myself since giving up Sunday school. I have a new job at church now: it’s called Whatever. I’ll rock babies. I’ll tell stories to children. I’ll welcome guests. I’ll help Melissa with the coffee. I’ll pass the offering plate (and probably try to peek in it). Whatever. I’m in.
Because I love church life. Even in all its imperfections and missteps. Even with its questionable reputation. Even though, at best, it can only point to Jesus and feign to replace Him. God used it to scoop me up when I was freefalling into an abyss. God used it to light a torch in me for missions and for the lifelong study of Scripture. God used it to teach me how to take a messy stab at teaching. God used it to show me how to love and to be loved. God used it to teach me how to forgive and feel forgiven.
Infinitely more than that, Jesus loves the Church. The big One. The one we’re only a speck on the face of. We – a people crouched on a tiny new dot on the Kingdom globe – want to take our place, shoulder to shoulder, with all the others who lift the Name of Jesus sky-high for any eye to see.
We want to take our place next to you.
And, if you happen to find yourself shoulder to shoulder with me, you might check your person for a rogue piece of peanut M&M. I’m a hugger, you know.