I haven’t posted in a while, I know. Today was Easter Sunday, and it was exceptional, one to remember for multiple reasons, so here I am.
The exceptional and memorable part wasn’t all good. About 8 a.m. today, Bill got the call that his older sister, Mary, had passed away. She was about 16 years older than he is and, after daytime in-home care for the last seven years, she transitioned to a local nursing home not far from her house in Dandridge, Tennessee about three weeks ago. On Thursday night, Mary had what her doctors called “a mini stroke.” Between that and developing pneumonia in a lung, she never really recovered.
A short while later, we left the house for church with Mary on our minds. I’ll always remember this Easter for it being the day she departed this life.
As close friends know, we have struggled to find a church fit in Chattanooga. The exceptional group of people we’d known and worshiped with in Knoxville for more than 20 years, and the special chemistry and shared outlook we enjoyed as part of Grace Presbyterian, have proved a tough act to follow.
Let me caution that the jury is still out, but the church we visited this morning felt more like home to us than any of the several we’ve been to previously in Chattanooga. Most churches are fuller than usual on Easter morning and the order and program of worship tends to be not just Easter-centric, but kind of all about Easter. As it should be, since Easter Sunday is the most important day of the Christian calendar.
All of which is to say that we walked into the third of three services at Northshore Fellowship this morning busily managing our expectations, given the past lacks of connection where we’ve tried going to church. When I tell you the sanctuary (an older, reclaimed, medium-sized building very typical of a new church plant) was standing room only, believe it. We had to wait to go inside for all the people leaving the service just ended to come outside.
The church meets in a still very up-and-coming, but already trendy part of downtown Chattanooga. Its website points out that “parking is in short supply,” and cautions about some next-door businesses: “Do not park at Walgreens or the Post Office. They will tow.” Depending on your age group, Bible study and other gatherings happen in an adjacent coffee shop, pizzeria, architectural firm or donut stand.
We were glad to find a parking spot on church property 10 minutes before services. That 10 minutes was used up as the last worship group before us made their way out in the morning’s beautiful sunshine.
People were dressed variously–overwhelmingly casual and informal, just like the introductions and passing of the peace.
Bill and I have been accustomed to a mix of standard hymns and contemporary songs at church for years. In my heart, though, I do tend to light up at a hymn. There’s a familiarity with both the lyrics and the melody that lets me sing as fully as I feel like. As I’ve become more practiced at contemporary praise songs, they’ve also become more familiar, but singing a hymn is like catching up with a long-lost loved one for me.
Well, let me just tell you, when Northshore Fellowship began the 10:45 a.m. service with its 30-person choir (all ages, both genders, no choir robes) knocking me backward with its rich harmony on “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” I was already getting to my feet before the song leader turned at the end of the first verse and gestured for the congregation to stand.
You don’t know how long I’ve waited to have that feeling in worship.
So long, in fact, that I quickly pulled out my phone to record the audio of the hymn. It was so great, I knew I’d want to listen again. I replayed it for Bill in the car after church, and we both talked about the good experience we’d just had. A timely, animated and impactful sermon, too. We will be back next week.
Meantime, I felt like I ought to do something with the audio. Among the many reasons I love hiking, including the times we’ve traveled specifically to do some hiking in new, celebrated territory, is that spending hours in majestic scenery is for me like spending communion with the Creator. Climbing mountains, overlooking a pristine lake or tromping in the “cathedral of the woods”–the hand of God is everywhere I turn.
Not to mention, as John Muir said and it’s so often true for me: “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
So I put my recording of the opening worship song from Northshore Fellowship to use as the soundtrack of a slide show of some images from some of the most beautiful and inspiring places I’ve gotten to visit–checking out the Master’s handiwork, that is. I hope you like it.
And remember what Henry David Thoreau said, too: “Not all who wander are lost.”
I suggest those who are might find God if they go outside.