Church Visit #24 – June 19, 2011
Scott Memorial Church of God – East Ridge, TN
In the week leading up to this week’s church visit, I received an interesting phone call. Clint Cooper from the Chattanooga Times Free Press called me to inquire about doing a newspaper profile on the ChurchSurfer project. Clint and I had met a few months earlier at a weekend event called the Walk to Emmaus, at which he had heard me mention the ChurchSurfer blog, and since then he had read it and apparently felt like it would be a good story to share in the “Life” section of the Times Free Press. I was all for it, of course…my thought all along has been that the stories from these churches would be a valuable resource for people in Chattanooga…and hopefully uplifting and entertaining as well. After making arrangements for a photographer to come out and meet me at the church I was visiting (but still had not chosen) I realized that having a photographer taking pictures of me may complicate the “average-Joe-first-time-visitor” experience that I’m always looking to write about. I immediately began deliberating about the various churches I had been considering, and questioning to myself whether they would feel intruded upon or exposed, or maybe feel like I was reporting or investigating their church rather than just writing an experiential blog article about it. I became somewhat troubled about this decision and thought about calling the pastor of a church beforehand to alert them to what would be going on, but then I reasoned that I would be making a bigger deal out of this thing than it really was. On the morning that I was supposed to call Clint back to let him know which church I would be attending, I still had not made a decision. I was looking at the calendar and it suddenly dawned upon me that this Sunday was Father’s Day. My dad, Mark Davis, recently became the Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial Church of God in East Ridge. How could I possibly choose any other church in the city of Chattanooga to attend on Father’s Day over my dad’s church? Problem solved! Not to mention that if having a photographer around caused a stir I probably wouldn’t get kicked out of a church where my dad is preaching, haha! Thank you Lord! So here we go…
A Father’s Day Surprise
Laura and I pulled into the gravel parking lot outside of Scott Memorial Church of God (of the Church of God Anderson, Indiana denomination, not Church of God Cleveland, Tennessee), gathered our Bibles and journals, and exited our vehicle. We immediately saw a shaggy-haired man with a smile approach us, introducing himself as John Rawlston from the Times Free Press. We chatted a few moments about the ChurchSurfer blog and he then snapped some photos of us in the church parking lot and then a few more of us walking up to the entrance. At first I had been a little unsure about having John come inside the church with us, but after meeting him, I was put at ease about that decision and invited him to come inside. As we headed toward the entrance, we were greeted enthusiastically by an older gentleman who opened the door for us and handed us a bulletin with an eager smile and a firm handshake. We were stopped a couple of times on our way down the hallway by people who recognized we were visitors and wanted to welcome us, and after a few quick introductions we proceeded on down to the lobby outside of the sanctuary where we saw my step-mom Jean and our good friend Rhonda seated on a bench. Just like any other week we did not reveal our church visit intentions, and we especially wanted this week’s visit to be a Father’s Day surprise for my dad anyway, so we just showed up completely unannounced. Jean and Rhonda hopped up from their seats with excitement and hugged us both and began introducing us to the people around them. After a few minutes of conversation we headed on in to the sanctuary where I saw my dad (I’ll refer to him as pastor Mark through the rest of the article) seated in a pew making some last minute sermon notes. We gave him hugs and wished him a happy Father’s Day and then all stood around fellowshipping for a few more minutes until the piano music that had started in the background reminded us that church service was ready to begin. All the while John Rawlston had perched himself at various vantage points, snapping photos unobtrusively in between introductions and explanations about who he was and what he was doing. As service was about to begin he came up and thanked me, letting me know that he was finished and was making his exit.
The Church Experience
The Scott Memorial COG sanctuary was mostly off-white with pastel stained glass windows and traditional wooden church pews. The pulpit was decorated with ferns and there was an altar table with two burning candles and a vase of fresh flowers positioned in front of a clear plexiglass podium at the front of the stage and a recessed baptismal in the wall behind the stage with a wooden cross above it. There was a screen projection on the wall just to the right of the baptismal with an animated “Happy Father’s Day” screen saver soon giving way to a humorous montage of video clips, after which the congregation sang Happy Father’s Day to the tune of the happy birthday song. All the men in the congregation were then given “Man of God” ink pens with an eagle on them as a gift (very thoughtful) and the church members with visitors in attendance were then asked to introduce their guests (Laura and I were introduced by Jean). After the guest introductions, we all stood for the worship time and proceeded through a series of classic hymns, including “I Love to Tell the Story” and “Because He Lives”, that were accompanied by a lady on the keyboard, a backing audio track played over the sound system, and a praise group of six women who sang from the stage. In between worship songs the collection plates were passed around while we were treated to a beautiful piano solo, and as worship time finished, pastor Mark led the congregation in a prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer which was recited by all. This made me wonder why all churches do not recite the Lord’s Prayer each week. It is very obvious that these are powerful words which were used as an example by Jesus Himself when asked by the disciples to teach them how to pray. I know we all have individual and church prayer requests, and I don’t think churches should discontinue the personal prayer time, but why not add the Lord’s Prayer on to the end so that everyone can participate? It just seems to me that if we are given specific instruction on how to do a few things such as prayer and communion, it is probably a good idea to do them…just sayin’.
The Plight of Fatherlessness
After praying, pastor Mark began his sermon by referring to a long list of alarming statistics from the First Things First website in a subsection called “the plight of fatherlessness”. I highly recommend reading through these statistics, because the more awareness we all have about the problem of fatherlessness that is crippling our country right now, the better chance we have of changing it. Pastor Mark transitioned the mood from troubling to lighthearted by going into his weekly top ten list, which this week was a list of first-grader’s responses to well know proverbs. This provided some much needed laughter after such depressing statistics, and he then referenced the Scripture of Ephesians 6: 1-4 to begin his message. He outlined four things that dads need to give their children, which he explained were unconditional love, focused attention, discipline, and the blessing. As he went into detail and used examples from real life and from Scripture to explain each one, he appeared to be emotionally invested as he delivered the sermon with passion. Pastor Mark never set foot on the stage to address the congregation from the podium, but instead started at the altar table in front of the first row of pews, and paced up and down the center aisle and back and forth in the front row. He carried an open Bible with notes stuck in it in his left hand and used his right hand to wave around and motion, adding emphasis to the various points of his sermon. At the end he explained that the blessing that fathers are supposed to give their children is the moment in which they look them in eyes and verbally recognize their adulthood…for sons that they are now their “own man” and for daughters their “own woman”. Pastor Mark closed the service by inviting anyone who had never received the blessing from their own parents to come to the front and receive it now…a moving gesture.
Being a “PK”
After service ended, Laura and I spent another thirty minutes talking and parting ways with all the new friends we had made. It was a warm and friendly experience with the people of Scott Memorial Church of God, and although much of that had to do with the fact that I am the son of the pastor, I felt like I still would have received a loving welcome had that not been the case. As for the service and the sermon, I always consider it a blessing to hear my dad preach, and unless you are a preacher’s kid (PK for short) it is hard to explain what it is like to see your parent preaching the Word of God to a congregation of believers. I’m not sure if other PK’s feel this way, but for me no matter how good a sermon is, if it is not delivered by my dad it always feels like a little something is missing. Maybe that is because I have seen the time, energy, and effort that he has put into his ministry. Maybe it is because I feel his love for me as father and son, rather than just on a separate level of a regular pastor and church member. And on this Sunday maybe it was because I had been able to look back through my life and see how my dad had done his best to give me unconditional love, focused attention, discipline, and the blessing. Was he perfect at it? No. Only our heavenly Father is the perfect father. But he always did what he thought was best and that is all any of us can ask for. I will end this week’s article with a call to action for the men who are reading this. If you are aware of children in your church or somewhere else in your life who you know do not have a father who provides these four important gifts, why not be that person for them? Why not become a father figure to a fatherless child. It might just change their life…and maybe yours as well.
If you would like to read the article by Clint Cooper in the Chattanooga Times Free Press click here.
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