God’s placement – Chris, Chuck & Sally Jo #16

Last Monday I told of the beginning of our ministry in Bakerville, CT (IPWG #15). Those who responded included Dr. Jay Barnes, the President elect of Bethel College in MN. Jay, a teacher at Wheaton Academy in the 1960s, was the bus driver for the Academy choir tour that included a concert/overnight in Bakerville. The teenage organist I mentioned as being one of the eight who were present our first several Sunday mornings also responded.

The young organist was Chris Philips, the oldest son of George and Jean Phillips – dairy farmers. Chris’s grand parents lived just down the road – as did his aunts, uncles and cousins. Chris was greatly loved and encouraged by this extended family. They recognized that Chris was both like them…and different from them.

Chris had nothing to do with his growing up in a solid family in a small New England town. Chris had nothing to do with the fact that the town’s church was very beautiful, had well maintained properties, and a very good pipe organ. Chris had nothing to do with our coming to Bakerville during his high school years. All of this “just happened” to him… just as Sally Jo and I had almost nothing to do with our spending four years as the pastor and pastor’s wife of this church.

God had chosen us to encourage and help Chris prepare for future ministry – though neither Chris nor we had any idea of what was to come. After four years in Bakerville, Sally Jo and I moved to Tennessee. Chris settled into college life. I was the minister for Chris and Joanne’s wedding. Chris went to an Anglican seminary in England and then became a minister within the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island. In 1983 Chris/Father Philips became part of the first group of Protestants welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church through a pastoral provision. The liturgy is significantly Anglican, as found in the Book of Common Prayer. Within this body of believers there is a provision for married priests.

When Chris and I are together, we share how the Lord continues to use us – and we both realize that we have merely been “along for the ride”. When we seek to live In Partnership with God, God plans, guides and provides – sometimes in incredible ways. Following is his e-mail response to my telling of our arrival in Bakerville – IPWG # 15 5/19/08:

Dear Chuck: …I enjoy reading your articles, and of course the Bakerville remembrances have special meaning for me. My own typical teen-aged self-absorption kept me from realizing just how difficult it was for you and Sally Jo in those early years. All I knew was that your coming to Bakerville opened up a whole new world of faith, as well as a realization that God actually had a plan for me! Thanks for responding so faithfully to God in your own vocation, which was instrumental in helping me find the path He had laid out for my own life. One day you called my attention to Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” and I have kept that as a foundational scriptural guide ever since. You told me, “All you need to do is love God; the rest will be taken care of.” Thanks for that lesson. Yours in Christ, Chris

Here is Chris’s response to my response: Dear Chuck: I’m very touched that you would want to include something about me, and I thank you for thinking of it. I know you have affected a great number of people in your ministry, and I was only one kid from over forty years ago; however, other than my parents, you were the most formative person in my life, and I think you know how grateful I am. Of course, if God hadn’t sent you into my path, I might have been a pretty good farmer! As far as my present ministry is concerned, I don’t know if you’ve looked through the website for the church and school: www.atonementonline.com. Yours in Christ, Chris.

I encourage you to take a minute to go to the above website. Read about the heritage of the parish ministry (4,000 + 5,000 worship each week – includes those who come more than once) and the Christian school (500+ students). See pictures of the facilities. I wish you could spend a couple hours with Chris/Father Philips at the church/school so he could tell you himself how God has guided and blessed the ministry.

Each of us has the privilege of living In Partnership With God. What that partnership means, how that partnership plays out, differs for each of us. This is not our concern! Our concern is to obey the teachings of His Word – to celebrate our life in Christ!

A Small Church: Challenges and Rewards: Part 1 (Arrival) #15

God’s assignments are a challenge, even with God’s provision of necessary resources

Sally Jo, 1 year old Carla and I arrived in Bakerville, CT a week before classes were to begin for me in Hartford. The plan had been – retiring minister moves out of parsonage, ceilings (chunks of plaster had already fallen) and carpet replaced – we would move in. The reality: The retiring minister had not moved out. The work could not be done.

Until we could move into the parsonage, the District Superintendent arranged for us to live in a very inexpensive motel – one small room with cooking facilities. The motel location was not good: a busy road, 1 hour to church, half hour to school. Each morning I drove our car to school leaving Sally Jo and Carla in this difficult setting.

On Sunday morning we were excited as we headed to the beautiful church in the country. We had been told that only eight people would be in church. I guess we did not believe it! But…7 elderly women and 1 teenage organist = 8. After church no one invited us to their home for dinner. We then drove the short distance down the road to check out progress on the parsonage – and there was none. The retiring minister and his wife had not moved out. The ride back to the motel was very quiet and seemed very long!

Week two – no change! Week three – no change! And so I went to the former minister, and told him that on Monday our family was going to move into the pastor’s office in the church and that he had one week to move out of the parsonage or I would move him out. He said I would never do that, and I said “just try me!” On Monday the District Superintendent had a mattress delivered to the floor of church office/study…and we officially moved to Bakerville, CT.

We unloaded our Nash Rambler station wagon at the church; we asked the gas station attendant where to buy groceries – nearest real grocery store was fifteen miles west in Torrington. We returned to the church, put our groceries in the kitchen, and prepared to spend the night.

That week the former minister and his wife moved out leaving a house full of “stuff”. Each morning I headed for school – with the security of knowing that Sally Jo and Carla had a wonderful lawn on which to play, a very spacious kitchen in which to prepare dinner, and a large dining room/fellowship hall in which to eat. Even a nursery with toys!

After the parsonage was emptied, sheet rock installer arrived at the parsonage, broke out the sagging plaster ceiling and set to work. We continued to live at the church. One day a homemade apple pie appeared on our church “bedroom” window sill. Another day, when Sally Jo and Carla had to vacate because the Garden Club was using the building, a woman invited them to come to her house. Later, Bob and Alice, a couple about our age, came by after work to invite us to their home for dinner and a shower. When Bob and Alice learned we were about to move in, they said they would come on Saturday to help. I contacted the furniture mover and they agreed to deliver on Saturday – at no additional cost. Friday afternoon the carpet arrived. Four weeks of living under unusual circumstances and we were ready to move into the parsonage!

Saturday morning Bob and Alice arrived, and soon after, the moving van. The driver then handed me the bill for the move from Alabama and three months storage and said he could not unload until he was paid in cash. I had expected the bill – but had no clue that C.O.D. was required. The banks were closed. I was stunned! Then I saw Bob’s smile. Bob, who weighed screws for a large factory, was the keeper of the employee gambling pool. He drove home, returned in a few minutes with a large wad of cash and the unloading commenced!

God indeed moves in mysterious ways! God guided us to the school. God then provided the church, parsonage, income, congregation, organist, un-packers, and the cash to pay the movers! God was with us!

“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” — Matthew 10:30

We must never forget this truth! We can have no clue how God works to care for all his people – but He does!

I Want What God Wants! #14

After a high school youth retreat I dropped off an only child on my way home. Mom came out of their home with a smile on her face and her arms open wide! Her daughter bounced out of the car and gave her mother a great big hug…and then surprised us both. “Guess what Mom; I believe God wants me to be a missionary!” Her mom stood there, stunned. With a stern face, she said “I do not care what God wants, I won’t have it! You are staying here with me.” Even as that moment burned its way into my memory, I am sure it did into her daughter’s. Year’s later, we received a call from her – she had not stayed with her mother or with the Lord. She was living in a commune on the west coast. She wistfully said, “I remember the good times we had in our youth group.”

Michael Woodham, Woody, was also on the trip, was also an only child. During the week following the retreat I ran into Woody’s parents. They had huge smiles on their faces as they excitedly told me Woody believed God wanted him to be a missionary.

When Woody graduated from college, he married Debbie, a girl from our youth group. Debbie worked as a draftsman while Woody went to Seminary for his Master’s of Divinity Degree. Woody’s parents remained excited – we know this because for many years his parents kept in touch with us, often sending us pecans and lovingly made gifts.

A few years ago Woody looked me up on the internet, and we continue to communicate through e-mails. WHILE WRITING THIS I WENT TO CHECK MY E-MAIL FILE to see what I had on Woody, from several months back. THE FIRST E-MAIL I SAW WAS A NEW E-MAIL FROM WOODY with pictures of Woody and Deb. I called for an update.

I told Woody that after I wrote last Monday’s IPWG and told about the impact of Norton Mullens “Let me tell you of the goodness of the Lord”, I wrote this week’s IPWG: “God’s Assignments Are Tough!” which is the story of how we ended up in Bakerville, CT. I felt good about what I had written…but it began to bother me that I had only written one IPWG on our Dothan experiences. At this point Woody interrupted with “how could you do that – those were the most important years in your ministry!” Then I read to Woody what I had just written about him…which was up to where I put the capital letter sentence above. God’s timing is all that can account for my experience. I asked Woody to briefly review his life in Christian ministry.

While in college, Woody was almost killed in a head on car accident. His friend died and Woody lay in bed, severely injured, totally blind. During the previous semester he had taken a course on Hebrews. While lying in bed, he had one chapter of Hebrews read to him each day. On day 14, he realized he could see through one eye. The Zondervan Study Bible introduction to Hebrews writes “the theme of Hebrews is the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as a revealer and mediator of God’s grace”. Woody told me that suddenly the Scriptures became alive to him.

After serving in pastoral ministry in South Carolina and Georgia, Woody and Deb went to plant the first two Presbyterian Churches in Quito, Ecuador. While in Quito he learned that the Ecuadorian government had contracted with U. of Alabama to provide a continuing education program for Ecuador’s teachers. Woody had come to realize how much of a pastor’s time went into administration, and began his EdD in Administration and Planning with the U. of AL. In 1984 Woody, Debbie, and their children moved to Jamaica where he started IONA Centres for Theological Study for lay pastors. In 1988 they moved to Miami from where he continued to develop theological training centers for lay pastors in the Caribbean & Latin America. In 2006 Woody became the Executive Pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, FL.

I did not know much of this until this afternoon. It was a wonderful reminder of how the Lord has used Sally Jo and me to impact the lives of others. Woody and Deb were two kids in the youth group we led for two years. God had brought us together. God’s timing was perfect – as was the arrival of Woody’s e-mail this afternoon. Question: How many lives have Woody and Debbie encouraged and equipped to live as God’s servants? Promise: If you are living In Partnership With God, you have no clue of all of the ways God is using the partnership.

Doubt and Fear, then Remembering brings Peace! #13

By last Sunday evening, as I finished my IPWG “Let us Live Thankful”, I was very encouraged about what I anticipated my response would be if the results of my surgery were seriously “not good!”

On Monday the bottom fell out, it really did! I have a friend at church who has had nothing but trouble with his hip replacement – which had to be replaced. Now every step is painful. Then there is Harriet Hutchinson who had a staph infection after her surgery. Soon my mind was running wild. I was ready to cancel the surgery – no joke, I was. I was, flat out, filled with fear.

Then I remembered how the Lord had gone before us as we transitioned from Dothan, Alabama to a church in Connecticut.

After earning my Master’s in Divinity and while serving as an assistant pastor, Sally Jo and I realized the time had come for me to further my education through earning a Master’s degree in Christian education. While in seminary I learned about the Hartford Seminary Foundation which had an excellent religious education program. I knew the school was “liberal” theologically, and figured this would be a good challenge. The school was in New England, and living in New England was appealing. I applied and was accepted.

The school agreed to seek out a small pastorate where I could serve while a student. Soon I had a communication from a very active church with a regular attendance of about 200. Would I consider becoming their pastor? Sally Jo and I realized I could not pastor a “large” church and complete a master’s in one year. We turned down the opportunity, but shipped our furniture to a warehouse in Hartford. I confidently waited for another opportunity. None came in the next two months. No problem. Wheaton College had asked me to teach Christian Education for the summer term at Honey Rock Camp. While teaching at HRC we kept checking the mail box. Nothing! During the last week of teaching we received a letter from the District Superintendent of the Methodist Church in Connecticut. He knew that I was a Presbyterian and there were no Presbyterian openings in the area. He had a congregation of 219 members – with an average attendance of 8. He could not get any Methodist minister to take the pastorate. The Bakerville United Methodist Church was located about 30 minutes from the grad school. Perhaps we could make a deal!

We left Honey Rock Camp for New Jersey, where we left our daughter with Sally Jo’s sister, and headed out to meet the District Superintendent. He led us to Bakerville, a town with one blinking light, a gas station and an auto-body shop. He took us to the church – which turned out to be a typical New England church with granite stairs, four pillars and a clock in the steeple. The church was set back on a beautiful lawn, surrounded by woods. Incredible! We went inside. Here was a perfectly kept, old style sanctuary – light blue with clear windows up the sides, two pulpits, doors on the pews AND a Mohler pipe organ. We took the job! We would live in the old parsonage, have our utilities paid, and receive $4,000.

Eleven years before the old facility burnt to the ground. The new facility had been essentially a gift to the church. For the previous ten years the congregation had a minister who did not believe the Bible was God’s word or that Jesus Christ really was God’s son, or in personal salvation. But he did believe that the people should not smoke or drink or work on Sunday – and they must tithe.

What a privilege to introduce these people to Jesus Christ. The church was desperate for the Good News we could bring – and we were getting desperate for a place to serve that would also provide a roof and some food. God had cared for the people of Bakerville and for us. If God did this for us once, He could do it again. I also realized that His care might be what I had in mind – but it might be like the care he brought to Stan and Norton. “Come here boy, let me tell you of the goodness of the Lord” I once again enjoyed peace.