Woodlawn Presbyterian Church is between air conditioners, but it wasn’t in our long-term plans. Several weeks ago a gang of miscreants apparently recognized that we struggle each month to pay our Georgia Power bill, so decided to help us. They wanted to show us that something we thought was essential, isn’t, and thereby start us on the path to lower expenses. They either stole or destroyed most of the A/C units. Argue with their methods if you will, but they certainly made an impact.
Dealing with insurance and police reports is a time-consuming matter, particularly when a committee is handling our end of the transactions. As a church, we must do all things properly and be dignified. Even while dripping sweat.
Unfortunately, it isn’t like we can fall back on Budget Rent-an-A/C.
For the past month, our small group of congregants has gathered in the church parlor where there is a ceiling fan, one ancient box fan, and an equally ancient window air conditioner that is louder than any of us can speak. Most Sundays, somebody will mention the unexpected blessing of a congregation that has steadily shrunk so much that the parlor is plenty large enough for worship service.
Gradually we’ve dragged enough trappings into the parlor to make it feel like home. There is a banner and the Christ Candle.. its flame is small and doesn’t raise the room’s temperature noticeably. An electronic keyboard and a vase of flowers. To the joy of some of us, there is access to Sunday School’s coffee pot. The pastor has learned that he can preach without wearing a heavy black robe with colorful embroidered stole, the outfit that our children always call his “dress.”
And many of us have commented that this is actually enjoyable… our few voices don’t get lost when we sing. It’s easier to Pass the Peace and get to everybody with a heart-felt “May the peace of Christ be with you!” We’re closer in all ways. Aroma included.
Today, however, was a day we’d dreaded to an extent. Our congregation has welcomed new members from Ghana over the past several years, immigrants who bring their own joy and flavor to our small worship community. A few years ago, several Ghanaian members asked for worship services in their native language and in their worship style. Most weekends they use the fellowship hall where they preach, pray and sing in Twi, while we meet in the sanctuary. Or the parlor lately. Today there would be a large crowd because we were to have a joint service that included baptizing a baby.
The Ghanaian are such a joyous people… they don’t know how to force one of our tight little stingy smiles. Instead, their entire faces light up: eyes crinkle and teeth appear, and before you know it’s coming, you’ve been grabbed in a bear-hug.
And sing… my lord, but they can sing! I’m self-conscious around song-books, try hard not to sing loud enough to discourage other worshippers or offend God. But when our Ghanaian members are singing amongst us, I bellow it out, letting the notes fall where they may, and even attempt to sway in rhythm.
So, what would be so bad about today? That blasted A/C, or lack of it. There would be a sanctuary full of warm bodies literally… the Ghanaian members are by far the largest portion of our congregation. And while we American Presbyterians may be the Frozen Chosen, I promise you that we can sweat with the best of them. Yep, it was going to be a miserable time.
That is what we expected, anyway. But this is what happened: Rain came in torrents! With doors open on both sides of the sanctuary, it was easy to see, hear, smell it. From my seat, I could hear small children playing outside under the breezeway… Ghanaian children start that joy thing young.
So the day was cooler. We didn’t have A/C, but it was okay. Actually it wasn’t nearly as hot as I remember from growing up in deep South Georgia. Our country church wasn’t air conditioned at all, so when the preacher thundered about Hell, we knew exactly what he meant.
In fact, South Georgia’s Hell included gnats, while in Cobb County we’re well north of the Gnat Line. God is great, God is good!
Today, our pastor learned that he can preach without even wearing a suit jacket – a white cotton shirt will do fine. Apparently he’s still young enough that he can learn to relax even in the pulpit.
Baby Renaye is beautiful, and never whimpered even once during her baptism. She seemed to enjoy being the center of attention, and watched the pastor intently, drinking in every word. She didn’t even sleep during the sermon like some of us do on occasion. Let me tell you: if you ever have a chance to attend a Ghanaian naming ceremony, do so.
And the singing today was the best I’ve ever heard. The Ghanaian choir sang something unbelievably beautiful in Twi, and for maybe the 500th time I wished they would have a singing school to teach me to sing the way they do.
And one last song/blessing: “Do, Lord, Oh Do Lord” a song that cannot be sung sitting down. If you’re seated, you’d better be in a school bus going somewhere — which we weren’t. So we called a halt, everybody stood up, and we started again, singing as loud as we could, complete with hallelujahs here and there, some swaying and finger-snapping, and lots of grins.
And we didn’t even run up the electric bill with A/C. The blessings just keep on coming!