Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
July 16, 2017
Sacred moments in a church that has blessed me
Last Sunday was an unusual day for me. Most Sundays for the past 65 years I have been in the pulpit preaching or leading worship. But a week ago I was just another old man sitting beside my wife on a pew in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church in my hometown, Wetumpka, Alabama.
The worshipers near me had no idea the depth of my emotions. I fought hard to keep back the tears as precious memories flooded my soul.
I remembered the day in 1945 when I stood at the altar in that sanctuary to become a member of the church. Standing beside me were my parents and my siblings. We were received into membership by the first pastor to ever visit our home in the country near what is now the Emerald Mountain Toll Bridge. That pastor was Brother Si Mathison. I was 13.
Five years later, now a high school senior, I returned to that altar to answer God’s call to the ministry. Easily I can recall the exact spot where I knelt and prayed that day.
I had no idea that four years later I would stand before that altar to be married to Dean Brown, my childhood sweetheart. Our wedding was on a hot Sunday in June. There was no air-conditioning back then. It was so hot that candles in the windows began melting and bowing in humble adoration of my beautiful bride.
Four more years would pass before we returned, this time in sorrow, to that altar. With us at the altar was our son David in a small casket. Leukemia had claimed his life at age three. He had died in Nashville but we bought him home and buried him in Wetumpka’s old cemetery.
Sitting on that pew last Sunday I thought of my debt to that church. There faithful Sunday School teachers had loved me and taught me to believe in and love God. In that sanctuary I had heard the gospel preached until I felt inspired to make it my mission in life to share that gospel with others.
When I had answered the call to the ministry, that church family encouraged me to believe that I could preach. The good folks of that church shared our joy as Dean and I were joined in holy matrimony.
That church family put loving arms around us and wept with us in the loss of our son. Our grief became manageable because of the loving support the church graciously provided us.
Fifty years after our marriage we returned to that altar and renewed our vows, remembering with gratitude all that God had done for us through that church family.
Sunday it touched me deeply to be greeted warmly by my longtime friend Grady Rowell whose wife Celestra is on the church staff. Grady and I have been friends for more than 70 years. We were classmates in high school and roommates later while students at Auburn University. Grady and I share a heartfelt indebtedness to that church for it was there that we embraced Christ and were nurtured in the faith by folks who believed in us.
Now our oldest son, Matt, has become pastor of that church. We are thrilled beyond words that God (and the Bishop) have given Matt the honor of serving Christ there. We have rejoiced to see the people embrace our son and his wife Tammy with enthusiasm and joy. Once again we have been humbled by the difference that church family continues to make in our lives.
Many of the dear people who blessed my life in earlier years walk among us no more. I will have to wait until I get to heaven to thank them for their gracious influence in my life. But to those who now serve Christ in that church family, I share this word: Take your opportunities of service to Christ seriously for you can make a powerful difference in those whose lives you touch with the love of Jesus!
Last Sunday I knelt once again at that sacred altar and gave thanks for the difference that church family has made in my life. May that altar be the place of many Kingdom victories in the years that lie ahead! + + +