Sundays have been different and difficult for Lisa and I during our travels. In most cases Lisa has been off work and the off day is always a relief. But in our lives, Sundays were always about going to church at Bellevue Baptist in Owensboro, Kentucky and there meeting up with family and friends while experiencing life with people who love God and one another. We have desperately missed that. In different places we have experienced welcoming congregations and warm, sincere believers more than glad we were in attendance. But, when a church has shaped life to the extent that Bellevue has shaped ours – nothing can compare. That is not to say ours is the best church. It is not. But, it is our church – and that will never change.
So, it was wonderful being home this past Labor Day weekend and stepping through the doors of Bellevue once again – just like old times. As I have written before, Bellevue is the orbit in which our lives have rotated since Lisa and I first met there thirty-one years ago. At Bellevue our children were taught scriptural truths from their first weeks on earth and it is a place where now our grandson will follow the same path.
One of the first people we met up with was a dear matriarch of our church family, Jean Howard, who taught both our children at different times and places in their lives and Lisa and I hugged her as she sat on the back row of our sanctuary. Age has, perhaps, limited her mobility but her spirit and dedication to the church have never wavered. People like Jean have helped sustain the tradition of Bellevue for nearly sixty years and Lisa and I cannot begin to thank people like her who have been steady and steadfast in their love of Christ and His church. Whatever good things come out of our lives or the lives of our children, is in large part a credit to the people of Bellevue.
When Lisa and I walk into Bellevue we feel like we are home. It is not the house we live in or the streets we drive on – it is, for us, the church we worship in. I know that the church is much larger than the local body of believers in which one may be associated and it is true we have had wonderful experiences visiting churches of different denominations and worship styles. But walking into Bellevue is like walking into a living scrapbook of our lives. We spent thirty minutes after the service hugging old friends who genuinely care about us – these are the people who celebrated with us many, many good times – and these are the people who held us up during tragedies. These people decorated the church for our wedding day and prepared meals when we lost family members. For me personally, Bellevue gave me confidence. It chose me to serve as a deacon in 1985 and allowed me to be part of many important decisions that not only moved our church forward, but me personally. Not only did Bellevue grow me spiritually, it grew me as a man. Men like George Thompson, John Worth, Kenny Baughn, and Paul Daniel are just a few who were part of that “great cloud of witnesses” in my life who showed me how to lead my family and lead that church.
Lisa and I made our way to our seats and began singing along with the others in attendance. I immediately began looking for my good friend, Tim Hicks, on stage playing his guitar – unfortunately Tim had the day off. I looked at the choir and missed being a part of the music ministry that had been so important to me for so many years. I marveled at the stage lighting and backdrop that Alicia Berry, a talented young lady who we love dearly, designed. We sang and smiled and clapped – I even whistled on a couple of occasions. We were so happy to be back – it was impossible to contain the joy.
Our pastor, Greg Faulls, then stepped up to share his message and I could not help but feel proud remembering I was part of the committee that recruited him to Bellevue some sixteen years ago. He and I (along with hundreds of others) worked very closely to relocate our church and we served side by side for many years as pastor and deacon. Beyond his preaching skills and leadership, I sat there most proud of him for never making me regret that decision. I miss serving with him.
Like many churches Bellevue members enjoy hanging out together and I said before Lisa and I hung around between the services to greet friends we had missed, share a laugh, take a few pictures, hug a lot of necks and shake a lot of hands. We really felt like we were home.
And here is a shock – Bellevue is not perfect. As a matter of fact there have been times that the church angered me beyond what I care to admit. Not to compare myself with Christ – but I know a little of the emotion behind His charging into the money-changers in the temple. I have had my table flipping moments through the years and have damaged relationships with other members in the process. There are struggles in being the community of faith just as there are struggles being any other type of organization. Where there are people – there will be conflicts. And the truth is Bellevue is like all other churches – full of failed human beings who can be petty and selfish and mean and – well, human. Some say the music is too loud, the sanctuary too dark, the sermon too long, the parking lot too small, the seats too hard, and the air conditioner too high. We expect the church to be all things to all people.
Scripture calls the church the Body of Christ. That is true. But, at times, it feels more like a zoo. Every zoo I have been through includes fascinating animals that are beautiful and exotic and draw people to them. And then there are those strange animals that look funny. Zoos house animals that are bizarre looking and act crazy. We move past those quickly and gather at the cage where the animals are more interesting and appealing. The challenge for Bellevue and all churches is to embrace all the animals – including the unappealing ones. The church is a zoo and Bellevue is no exception. But though Bellevue is flawed – it is also an amazing place. Those strange animals of the church have been the greatest asset in our lives, our marriage and our home. We miss Bellevue and all those wonderful animals inside – even the strange ones.
Lisa and I are now back in Cambridge Ohio and will be for at least the next two months. We will continue to attend different churches around Cambridge and Guernsey County and I know there are good people here that would do anything for us – we have already met many. But six hours from here in western Kentucky is another church that we will be thinking about. And like every Sunday – we will, again, wish we were home.
Love, Steve and Lisa