Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Tale of Two Little Brown Churches in the Dell

Actually, there was only one ... to begin with. And it was white; white frame, though some of the paint had faded and chipped off to reveal the brown wood beneath.

I went to church there my freshman year in college with some friends who were older and had cars - since this church was more than twenty miles away in a tiny town across the river.

The name isn't important.

What happened there is, and is the sad story I'm telling. This little church was so small - maybe 30 souls on a Sunday morning - that our visits made quite an impact on attendance. Most of those members were older ladies, a few teen girls, a minister, and the two elders.

The two of them are at the heart of the story, you see.

One of them said something about the other in a barber shop in a town so small that you can't even mutter to yourself without everyone knowing what's on your heart.

I don't know what it was that he said. I didn't live there, you see.

And it's not important to the story.

So the elder who was spoken of by the other pulled up roots and moved about half of the souls in that church with him, over to the abandoned, faded white concrete block building that the Baptists used to use. And in a town too small to have a second stop sign, there were two churches with the same name on their signs.

In the years since then I've told myself that, at 19, I was too young to interfere. Too young to know what to do. But, truth is, I knew what to say. I had read Matthew 18. I had read the letters to Timothy. I could have gently entreated those two church fathers to go to each other and iron out the wrinkles in their relationship; to demonstrate the power of penitence and forgiveness; to show their small community how important is the unity that Christ died to establish among His brothers and sisters.

But I didn't. And neither did anyone else.

It's an intimidating prospect. It's not something you would feel confident about doing. It's not something in which very many people have experience and expertise.

There are a few.

I can recommend a couple of excellent resources for churches - large or small - which need help dealing with conflicts - whether those are large or small. For the ones with problems that might be solved internally, there are outstanding materials available through Peacemaker Ministries. For churches who need help from an outside party (interested, rather than disinterested, in the unity of the saints), I recommend the Center for Conflict Resolution at Abilene Christian University. (My wife Angi had a hand in helping establish it, and some genuinely gifted people like its director Joey Cope and Jerry Strader and Charles Siburt and many others put their very hearts into its mission.)

I've never gone back to that little town in Arkansas with the two little brown churches ... maybe because I still feel a bit guilty about my silence.

I'd like to hope that in the 30+ years since, the rift has healed; that there is still one and only one church there; and that on one or the other of those two miniature buildings a fresh coat of glistening white is applied from time to time.

1 comment:

kojak said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.