The third Sunday of this grand adventure led us to a little church here in Jasper in one of the unlikeliest of places. The way we’ve been picking churches has been pretty haphazard for the most part. I tried to get organized that first week, but couldn’t decide on a reasonable search and decision method. So, mostly, I just type churches in Jasper, Georgia into Google, and look through the list while I pray. We did actually try to guide it a little more that Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, by specifically looking for the historically black churches in this area. But, we discovered their services were only on certain Sundays, and that wasn’t one of them. So, instead, I felt led to look for an Apostolic church.
I’ve heard the term before, and knew it was what mostly gets grouped into the “Pentecostal” churches by those of us outside the actual Pentecostal church and holiness movement. But, beyond that, I really didn’t know much about them. Including not knowing where the nearest one was. Turns out, New Life Apostolic Church is only a few blocks from my house, in the downstairs, backside of the one of the buildings that fronts on Main Street here. With my new haircut, and the extra flowy black skirt I had gotten the Sunday before layered over my normal flowy black skirt, and my easier to remove heels (all thanks to my gracious mother who helped me get outfitted for a job interview), Corey, Jordan and I set out for the next leg of our adventure.
And what an adventure it was! I have to say, I have enjoyed visiting new places where God’s children gather together to worship Him. But, this small congregation in an unassuming brick building on Main was quite a delight. And quite a surprise. I’ve been in a Methodist church now for nearly eight years, and the last several churches I’d attended prior to that periodically over the years were also Methodist. Most of the other churches I’ve attended in my youth ran along the same pattern as the Methodists. The services began around 11, and typically ended around 12. There is a pretty settled pattern of worship in most of them too. Some type of welcome, a little singing, a little Scripture either by itself, or as part of the sermon, a little more singing, and the benediction. And usually somewhere in there, there are a few prayers and an offering is taken. Most of the time, they hand you a bulletin or worship guide when you walk in too, to kinda tell you the flow of the service.
All of that flew straight out the window at New Life Apostolic. We began by being met graciously at the door by the pastor’s wife, the guest preacher/music leader for the day, and the Pastor himself. They explained this was a relatively new space, pointed out the bathroom as we passed it, and showed us back down the hall to the space where the pulpit, chairs and sound system were set up. There were a few people there already, who immediately engaged us in conversation. The atmosphere was unrushed, and the beginning of service was delayed as we awaited the arrival of one of the faithful members who recently underwent a foot amputation. They wanted to make sure they were there to help her inside when she arrived. What a spectacle of caring for one another with the love of Christ.
When everyone had arrived, we began by releasing the little girl who was there to the children’s lesson, and Pastor Violet explained for our benefit that they usually began their services with Bible Study at 11. He then began to talk from different parts of Scripture about overcoming fear and doubt. For the first time in this journey, I had forgotten my Bible and my notebook, yet I sat listening intently. He invited engagement and conversation as he unfolded his lesson. I held my breath for just a moment the first time Jordan spoke out in response to the teaching. It’s always a bit unpredictable how his stepping into such situations will be received.
Jordan has a slight speech problem that is mostly not troublesome for him. But it can create discomfort in those around him as they have to listen carefully and it helps to look at him directly. More than that, and perhaps most disconcerting for adults, though he is all, Jordan is only 13 years old. Many times in Bible Study or Bible conversations with adults, they tend to dismiss what he says simply because of his age. So, I was deeply intrigued by Pastor Violet’s response. He listened respectfully and carefully, and didn’t seem to have the slightest trouble understanding. Then he engaged the comments Jordan made directly, and seemed genuinely delighted at Jordan’s participation. So much so that he actively engaged Jordan in the remainder of the lesson, and made a point of giving praise for that engagement during the prayers.
After the Bible Study portion of their gathering, they take a quick break before gathering back together to sing praises and worship. In my brain, when they said that, I assumed that the remainder of the service would be singing, and perhaps a little bit of prayer, and that it would soon be over. Boy, was I in for a surprise! After a thankfully short bathroom break, I came back to take my seat. I had a great time talking about music to the very shy little blonde girl who had returned from her class. Then it was time for worship to begin.
It started with a handful of songs with keys drums and two vocalists that filled that little space with a joyful noise. I had only ever actually heard one of the songs before, I think it’s called I Know God is God. I’ve never actually sung that one, but I had heard it in one of the videos I’ve captioned in the last few months. Even without knowing the words though, it was still a delight to hum along, dance a little and put my hands in the air. It was also a delight to see the congregation fully engaged in giving praise and glory to God.
As we settled back into our seats after the music, they began a time of prayer. There’s an interesting thing that happens when you do a Bible Study as part of the service in the same space and at the time most services start. It puts everyone in a state of being engaged and responsive for the rest of the service. When the floor was opened for prayer concerns, they came from all around the room. Not the standard formula I’m used to of “will you all pray for” so much as, “I’m struggling with…” or “So and so is needing prayer for…” And then the praying began in earnest.
It wasn’t really led by Pastor Violet. He sort of kicked it off by calling on God, but from there, everyone started praying. There was a gentle babble of voices that filled the space. None conflicting or overpowering the rest, but all of them sort of blending together into one voice lifting prayers, petitions and praises to God. Now and then I could hear a different language drifting out. Now and then I could hear a different cadence drifting through that wanted to tip into a different language but was remaining in English. There was a sense of power, joy and peace that rose and fell in a rhythm until if faded almost as if there was a cue, though there wasn’t.
Then Preacher Jeremiah stepped up after Pastor Violet introduced him, and while I had though the service was coming to a close, little did I know it was only beginning. Jeremiah preached passionately on the subject that there’s no such thing as discounted salvation. He preached Christ crucified, buried and raised throughout his sermon. The power of the whole Gospel, and the uselessness of a partial Gospel. Which was interesting since much of the Scripture he referenced was actually passages from the Old Testament. Funny how the Gospel of Christ really does show itself from the beginning to the end of Scripture.
At first some of the phrases and cadences he used distracted me just a bit. I recognize some of the vocal stutters that preachers develop to cover the moments when their mouths start running faster than their brains and they need a second to catch up to themselves. There are also some phrases that seem to come packaged with each denomination, and they always strike me as a touch discordant because they are unrelated to the actual message. But, it was not long at all before those instances of distraction faded into the background and I was caught up totally in the passion of the message. So was everyone else, as periodically a hallelujah, amen, or lifted words drifted out in response.
Somewhere as we were either praying or singing again I’m not sure which, the lovely woman who had been talking to us when we arrived approached me while my eyes were closed and I was praying. She touched my hand gently and prayed over me for God’s guidance without my asking. And looked at me and told me she could see that God had something going on with me. It made my heart smile with gratitude for the affirmation.
The most interesting part? It was nearly three hours from the time we got there to the time we left, and not one time during the service did my 13 year old son complain or lose interest in the service. I couldn’t believe we’d been there that long actually when I caught sight of the clock on the way out. And it was with a sense of having met new/old friends that we exchanged well wishes with everyone as we left for home. When I asked Jordan later that evening what he’s thought of the service, his response was fascinating.
He looked at me with kind of a look of frustration, as he looked for the right word. What finally came out was that it was a strong church. When I asked him to elaborate, that sense of frustration got a little stronger, as he couldn’t quite find words to describe what he meant. Part of it, I know, was the intensity of the preaching. But, that wasn’t exactly what he meant. He meant he had a strong sense of God both in the place and people, and in the teaching and preaching. I know what he meant. Strong was a good description, perhaps the best description of that place.
As for what was missing, as with the others I’ve mentioned so far, people seem to be the main thing that’s missing. It brings to mind the Scripture where Christ admonishes His disciples to in Matthew 9, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. I am praying earnestly that the Lord sends out laborers, and shows me how I fit in helping with the harvest.
Be blessed and be a blessing.