Every hundred years or so, there ought to be a grand party just to celebrate BEING.
That's exactly what happened today in our little country church. The entire congregation has been planning, planting, painting and making nice for a wonderful Centennial Celebration. Today was our big, exciting day! It was a glorious, auspicious occasion!
We are commonly known as "Maple Grove Church." It's a sort of nickname, based on the precinct location in Johnson County. OFFICIALLY, we are St. Paul's United Church of Christ; unofficially we are "Maple Grovers." Our church home was established in 1909.
Worshippers came today from Steinhauer, our sister church- Salem United Church of Christ-located a few miles south of us. Some folks had traveled from all over the United States to partake in the festivities. They came because they had been confirmed in our church or they were married in our church. They came because they were ministers who formerly served our little congregation. They came to reconnect with former ministers. They came for the prayers and worship, the fellowship and music, and the bountiful plates of catered food!
We wore our finest clothes for this day and our church was properly dressed, as well. There was the new stencil in the entry and a new carpet. The quilt the Women's Fellowship designed, created and dedicated hung prominently in the Fellowship Hall. Even the choir loft had a fresh new look: a stencil, designating the area a place to "Sing and Rejoice!"
We were treated to hymns from the organ, piano, and keyboard. We heard singers who had grown up in our church and brought their guitars to celebrate the homecoming. We had a vocal duet from an aunt/nephew duo that made tears in my eyes. We sang familiar tunes with words former pastors had written; that gave us a taste of their presence even though they are gone.
One of the most loved ministers came from New York and had no idea what topic he should broach. So he just told us what it had meant to him to serve where the grass was brown when he arrived but became golden through the season because he had learned to love it so. He spoke of the genuine sincerity of the people and how he had learned from our parishioners to pray "Come Lord Jesus. Be thou our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen." He told us how he had visited Germany and heard the same simple prayer. His voice broke when he shared with us that he loved his time of service to Maple Grove and he was grateful we had taught him so much.
Our rich history was shared: the fire that burned so much of the building but left the cross, which hangs above the altar, singe marks and all. Accounts were made about how the tornado took down the building but did not remove the Spirit of pulling together to rebuild and begin anew. There were such interesting descriptions of which couple married first in the old church structure and how their grandchildren were the last couple to be married there before the tornado mowed it down. There was a simple story about how we became linked with our Sister Church and what a lovely arrangement that has been for all, including our ministers.
One of our own church children grew up to be called into the ministry. She told about how that felt and how the pastor who baptized and confirmed her helped her on that journey. She also presented a skit to roast a group of ministers, including our most recent. It was a good thing our local newspaper photographer came to record the day in pictures; otherwise, no one would believe the things Reverend Renae trotted out for those men and woman of the cloth to wear and do!
God must have been paying close attention to this party. He provided delightful temperatures and cooling breezes, great food-including a cake that was a replica of the church building-and all the love our hearts could hold.
If you could see me now you would wonder how I will ever get this smile off my face.