I drive past it nearly every day, on my way somewhere. Today, though, I pull over and park my car in the lot, now overlaid with weeds. I look at the church – an unkempt building that has been empty for many years now – and I listen. No music flows through its closed windows. No children laugh or play on the rotted teeter-totter in its side yard. No pastor preaches from its pulpit. Instead, I hear the sounds of the country – the birds, the leaves kissing the breeze, a tractor in the distance,
and I’m remembering the past,
and I’m missing my old church,
and I’m hearing the Master whisper . . .
It was a beautiful old country church in its day. I remember it with fondness. Huge double doors opened into a contrasting small foyer. Tall, stained glass windows – four on each side – adorned its structure. Reposed on the side of a gravel road in a typical country church setting , near a creek and down a hill from the cemetery bearing the same name – Dayburg. Dayburg Baptist Church was a stable, element in my life. It is where Daddy and Mama met; where they married; where they faithfully served the Lord; where they raised their family to grow in the Lord; and where later, Ron and I were married.
On Sunday mornings, my brother, Larry, and I joined other neighborhood children, each of us lidded in white capes with little black bow ties – altogether composing our little choir. Throughout the preceding week, my mama and Ethyl, her friend and neighbor, had prepared the capes. I remember watching Mama sprinkle each cape with water and starch and roll it up, placing it with the others in a basket. Later, she unrolled each on her ironing board and pressed it with a hot iron, the steam rising like little clouds of praise to the Lord. By Sunday morning, a dozen or more of these stiff little mantles hung on wire hangers, neatly separated, smallest to largest, at the bottom of the stairway to the church basement. Marsha, the pianist, pounded out the introduction; then we marched down the aisle, two-by-two, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I always wondered what “war” we were “marching as to”! God was opening my little heart to His Word and will.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ Matt. 19:14
Potluck dinner was held in the basement of the church on the first Wednesday night of each month,. We went early, as Daddy and Mama always helped set up and clean up from every church activity. When we entered, the basement felt damp and smelled a bit musty, but soon, the stone-walled room was filled with the scent of meat loaves, banana nut bread, and homemade noodles. “Hooray for the Noodles!” Delores cheered, as Gramps came down the steps, carrying the green Pyrex mixing bowl, filled to the brim with Nana’s homemade noodles. Gramps and Nana were a lovely couple from the neighborhood who lived in a huge white house surrounded by even larger dark-green-leafed shade trees. Gramps was unquestionably faithful in his church attendance and service to the Lord, and I remember Nana for her faithfulness in making the noodles for the monthly potluck. And we did love those noodles!
Gramps was the oldest man in our church. He was a beautiful man – inside and out – with solid white hair and a radiant glow on his face. I observed that brilliance every time he spoke or prayed and especially when he sang “Will There Be Any Stars in my Crown.” He sang loudly and off-key, and I loved every measure and stanza, eyeing him from the side, my little mind imagining Gramps wearing the crown he would one day receive in heaven!
Now there is in store for [Gramps] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award on that day. 2 Timothy 4:8
Maude and Dessa were sisters, both widowed, who lived together just two houses from the church. I thought they were as old as a person can possibly be. On Sunday mornings, Maude fired up her old car. It was still sputtering and backfiring when she pulled in the church yard. Maude was another who sang out of tune, and being quite deaf, she also sang loudly. But we all loved Maude and we all cherished her singing!
I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Psalm 104:33
One Sunday morning, Dessa had prepared the communion wine, which in our church was always actually grape juice. As the communion cups passed our pew, I saw tiny cups full of the oddest looking, thickest communion juice I’d ever seen (in my few years)! I looked strangely at Mama beside me, who gave me “the eye” not to say anything about it or make a fuss. Later Mama told me that the grape juice was homemade by Maude and Dessa – from the small grape arbor on their property. It was just another commonplace occurrence in our little country church!
When the people are gathered together . . . to serve the Lord. Psalm 102:22 KJV
On Thursday nights, prayer meeting was held at the church. Mama often took me with her. I sat beside her, or knelt beside her, on the merciless, hard wooden floor as she and others prayed. During those prayer meetings I was exposed to great depths within the hearts of Mama and our neighbor ladies – pangs of anguish, burdens for others – passions I hadn’t imagined could possibly exist in their common lives. Through my observations, the Lord began to develop a sense of compassion within me – of understanding and empathy for others. And years later, I became the recipient of similar compassion from others.
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8
My greatest memories of the church, however, were those of summertime.
In the summer, the tall stained glass single-hung windows were opened all the way, allowing the breeze to enter the west windows, circulate the open sanctuary, and exit through the east windows. It felt cool to me when we arrived for Sunday School at 10 am, but by noon, the large room was warm and stuffy.
We all seemed to sit in the same pews every Sunday – a trait I’ve since found to be commonplace, even in the largest of churches. When I was young, our family sat near the back on the left side.
Ethyl’s husband, Frank, sat on the right side of the sanctuary, about half way up the aisle, at the east end of the pew, closest to an open window. Frank was a big man in a plaid shirt and coveralls. He rarely spoke at church. If I hadn’t known Frank, I probably would have been frightened of him, but his kind heart and friendly smile made me feel comfortable. We all loved Frank. I always thought Frank sat closest to that window so he could feel a breeze as he snoozed during the sermon, but perhaps it was because that window provided him the closest view to his nearby farm, and a farmer is most comfortable on his farm. Frank had come to Michigan from Iowa, and he farmed with a big old Oliver.
The tractor looked huge to me – big man, big tractor. I assumed he was a big-time farmer, but Frank was really just a small-time farmer, eking out a living by doing what he loved most.
Ethyl, on the other hand, was outgoing and talkative. She taught Sunday School. Her Christian testimony was evident to me, but I never heard Frank’s testimony – never heard him speak about the Lord. For a very long time, Frank sat in our church and during that time, the Lord God was actually doing the farming – planting the seed in Frank’s heart; watering; nurturing. Then years later, shortly before his death, Frank accepted the Lord Jesus as his Savior. The Lord God made farmer Frank; the Lord God loved farmer Frank; and the Lord God graciously saved farmer Frank.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
One hot summer day, during Vacation Bible School (VBS), Reverend Lindner taught us children about Jesus – his birth, his ministry, and his death on the cross. It became real; the Lord’s suffering was for me! I remember the courage it took to stay after the lesson while others went to their classes and craft time, but I didn’t question it. Jesus had called me, and I prayed and accepted Him as my Savior that summer day. Many children responded to the gospel message throughout the week of Vacation Bible School.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
The old country church – this is where I met Jesus!
And later that summer, the congregation walked from the little country church, the short distance to the creek, where I was baptized.
Confessing . . . they were [Kathi was] baptized by him in the Jordan River [in this case, Hog Creek!] Matthew 3:6
Reverend Lindner was a missionary with Rural Bible Mission. During the school year, he was welcomed into the public schools and taught children Bible stories. In the summer, he led Vacation Bible Schools throughout the county. The week before VBS, he drove the country roads, a portable PA system attached to the roof of his car, and called out to children, inviting them to the local Bible School. It was a week we children eagerly anticipated. Then he drove a bus, picking up any child, anywhere, who needed a ride. It was one of the greatest weeks of the summer! Of course, during VBS, contests were offered, encouraging us to invite other children, so I analyzed the neighborhood, and devised a strategy: I would invite the families with the most children! Supianoski’s had the most children – seven, I believe – but they were Catholic and not interested in attending our Baptist Vacation Bible School. Next in number were the Strauss families: one family had six children – another had five. I invited them all. Some summers they attended. Other summers they did not. Sometimes, they also attended our Sunday School.
Years later, one of those girls, Theresa, shared something with me – something I had never realized as a child. She said that as a young girl, the only place Theresa felt comfortable and safe was in that country church. Little did I know that her childhood home was filled with hatred and abuse from a cruel father. Dayburg Baptist Church was a haven to her. The seed, planted in her heart during those early years by the Master of farming, later led Theresa to place her faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior.
Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop . . . the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart [this is my friend, Theresa], who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:8
Today, as I sit in the parking lot of the old country church and contemplate the memories it brings, I know that the old building was and still is just a shell. The people were the church that I remember. And people still make up the church – throughout this community, throughout this nation, and throughout the world. I am the church. The other children who responded to the gospel are the church. And Theresa is the church.
Mama and Daddy, along with Frank and Ethyl, Maude and Dessa, and Reverend Lindner, are all in heaven now. Gramps, too, and he wears his crown. His face is more radiant than ever, and he sings in perfect harmony!
Today, in the quiet abandoned church parking lot, along with the sounds of the country – the birds, the leaves kissing the breeze, and a tractor in the distance, I hear a whisper. It’s the Master whispering to them, His people,
Well done, thou good and faithful servants. Matthew 25:21
Then I start my car , back out onto the country road, and drive away, hearing Him whisper to me,
“Go now, Kathi. Be the church!”