Marines.Together We Served

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Bland Blessing

Last Sunday morning I wanted to attend a church that had an early service because my Sister Joy and I needed to drive from Connecticut to New Jersey in the early afternoon to attend the funeral of a long time family friend.

I discovered a number of interesting tidbits in my search for a church to attend. First, very few churches have an early Sunday morning service. Second, not all the information listed in the Yellow Pages is up to date. Third, many churches leave no information about their church services on the church answering machine. Fourth, churches are not easily identified by their name. For instance, if I saw New Life Fellowship listed the name would tell me nothing about the church other than they’ve come up with a contemporary name. Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s a fine name – but it doesn’t let me know who you are as a church and what you might believe.

On this Sunday I really wanted to be blessed. Let me restate that: I needed to be blessed. I don’t often get to sit in a church service and hear good solid preaching. So, not being familiar with the churches in Danbury, and for the reasons listed above, I just picked one that seemed to be solid. I punched the address of the church into the TomTom (a global positioning system, GPS) I’d purchased for Isaura as a Christmas gift last year, and drove to the church. I walked into the New Hope Baptist Church shortly after the service had started. I was pleasantly surprised to realize I’d walked into a black worship service. I knew right away I was in for a treat. And, I was prepared to be blessed. The announcements were just finishing, so I walked down to the third pew from the front and sat down. The worship leader then asked if there were any guests and would they stand and tell where they were from. So I stood and said, “I’m Pastor Chuck Roots of the Ripon Free Methodist Church in California.” This was greeted with warm applause. During the greeting time which followed, the lady leading the worship, Rev Minnie Bland, invited me to sit on the platform, a customary courtesy which many churches extend to fellow ministers. I accepted Rev Bland’s invitation to sit on the platform and had a wonderful time.

They had an all-male choir led by a small ensemble made up of a keyboard, electric guitar, piano, and drums. These guys could sing and play! The guest preacher was from North Carolina and was in fine form. Following the sermon they had the offering. Once the offering was collected Rev Bland leaned over and asked me to give the closing prayer. After the service, Miss Minnie asked me how I came to attend their church. I explained to her my trials and tribulations in locating a church to attend at so early an hour. She smiled sweetly and asked if I would I come back next time I was in Danbury and possibly preach? “Sure,” I said. “I’d love to.”

It was in 1991 that I was stationed in Rota, Spain. There I met Chaplain Rick Wilkins. Rick had started a black gospel service which was very well attended despite being held on Sunday afternoons at 2 pm. Though the congregation was predominantly black, my family and I chose to attend this worship service. Rick invited me to share the preaching responsibilities, which I gladly did, having more blessings than I could possibly recount for you. Rick and I traded weeks, so the Sunday I was not preaching I would sing with the choir. As is tradition, the choir was dressed in robes. I love to sing, so I couldn’t wait to sing with them on those Sundays. At first I was the only white face in the choir, but it didn’t matter. It was a blessing just to sing with such exuberant folks. My spirit was always lifted. Gradually more folks of non-descript color (read: white) began attending the services. Many eventually got involved in the choir. My! What a time we had!

Perhaps next summer I’ll vacation for a few days in Danbury with my wife’s relatives and see if Rev Minnie Bland will indeed have me come and preach.

This all reminds me that the Bible says there will be folks in heaven gathered around the throne of God, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Jesus).”

The Rev Minnie Bland, by her simple invitation to sit on the platform, could not have known the flood of memories I would experience.

I was truly blessed!

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