It was hard to resist the Morganton Baptist Church marquee headline I saw a couple of weeks ago during my Sunday bike ride: “There are no atheists in hell… they believe.” How could a pagan agnostic not walk into that one? Was it going to be feet first into a cauldron of fire? Dante’s Inferno, I wondered?
So last Sunday, I ditched the bike ride because of rain, took a shower and put on my Sunday best to blend in better with the congregation. Unlike the other country churches I sought out, Morganton Baptist is much bigger and less intimate. More worrisome to me was that it had a PA system and film screen – all hallmarks of modern big churches, not a small country church. But as soon as I walk in, the image of a Blue Ridge mountain scene on the screen quickly endeared me. After all, that is the setting we are in.
Even though I sat in the back pew (of about 17 rows of pews), the pastor’s wife greeted me. This church group was a very friendly group and after the first hymn, the pastor tells everyone to say hi to neighbors, which I did. There were many women in my vicinity and I ask if they are regulars – some demure – and say they try to come. I must say, even though this church was a bit larger than the last, a newcomer is always noticed.
Like all the churches I have visited in the North Georgia Mountains, the congregation is all white whereas the Gospel Baptist Churches in Atlanta, have a predominantly black congregation. Apparently segregation lives in the church. However, the church services are also quite different. I hope to explore the Gospel Baptist Churches in Atlanta as well.
The pastor, Eric Kincaid, a younger man who looks in his thirties, greets me and asks what brought me in and I tell him I’ve seen the church many times on my bike rides and was intrigued by a message on the marquee … he walks back to the lectern.
But today’s message was not about atheists, hell or non-believers. It was a clear message about how to get along with others. He turns to Philippians chapter 2 verse 3. I look around the pews – it’s Bring Your Own Bible (BYOB) again… shucks… I wish I had asked Gideon for a copy.
After a religious discussion about sharing God’s unconditional love, the importance of humility, making others more important than yourself and the way fellowship can make joy complete, the Pastor brings in a nice homey example.
He tells us that he likes to eat (as can be seen by his figure, he adds). So one day returning from a trip, he stops at a drive through to get a hamburger because he is hungry. He comes home with his burger and is eating at the dining room table. His wife asks him – what are you eating? Did you get something for the rest of the family? He tells her it didn’t cross his mind; he didn’t think of it. Now, he gets excited “we are selfish,” but Jesus Christ tells us others are more important, verse number four tells us that we shouldn’t just watch out for are own personal interest. Look out for others, be sensitive to one another.
I think to myself, maybe Jesus Christ is not a bad thing it he can help a guy stop being a guy… (forgetting to get a burger for his wife too).
Unlike some of the smaller country church services I have witnessed, Eric does not kneel on the floor, get agitated and sweaty nor does he remove his tie. He presents more like a college professor at a lectern.
We only sing two more hymns and the rest of the service is housekeeping announcements about the church budget and renovations and church events.
As I leave the church, the pastor’s wife asks how I like the service. I said I liked it a lot, her husband has a good sense of humor. “That he does,” she replies. As I walk away from the pew, I add: I guess Christ is a good thing, if he can help your husband bring you a burger next time. She gives me a startled look…
With all this talk of food, I was getting hungry so I drive down the road to the newly opened Morganton Grill near the lake.
For company, I grab a local paper. One of the headlines reads: “HALLELUJAH! 20 inmates were baptized during a special service at the Fannin County Jail.” – they were not baptized in a church baptistry, in a river or mountain creek, but rather in a watering trough for animals! So inmates don’t end up in hell for their crimes here, they get baptized instead for their atonement!