The Church is a LifeSaver

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

What does hearing great Christ-centered preaching, canoeing in the Okefenokee swamp, spelunking in caves in North Carolina, riding horses with my friends, roasting marshmallows and performing impromptu skits by the fire, attending inspiring retreats at Camp Glisson, musical events at Lake Junaluksa, wood carving classes, and inspiring worship all have in common? They are just a few of the activities which filled my life growing up as a member of Grace United Methodist church in Atlanta, Georgia.

The church was always at the center of my life. Grace United Methodist church in Atlanta has a tradition of the entire congregation coming forward to kneel and pray at the altar at the end of the Sunday night service. My parents had met at the altar of Grace as youth in 1951 during the ministry of Dr. Charles Allen. In 1960, my parents brought me as a baby back to that same altar where I was baptized by Dr. Cecil Myers. In fact, years later, when Dr. Myers preached a revival service at the Nacoochee United Methodist church where I pastored, he told me that I was the first child he had baptized at Grace church. I also grew up an avid Boy Scout, and troop 444 was sponsored by Grace United Methodist church. I also belonged to the Youth group and sang – or tried to sing – in the youth choir. The youth choir was the third choir I had sung in after the cherub choir and the carol choir. I was one of those children who stood in the cherub choir waving at my parents while we were supposed to be singing All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Sunday morning and night we worshipped as a family. I can still remember the grandeur of the sanctuary; the massive pipe organs, the beautiful stained glass windows, helping to pass the massive gold offering plates with velvet bottoms, my mother’s earnest prayers, and the quiet hush which came over us when we entered the sanctuary. My mom and dad always made sure that we sat in a particular transcept of the sanctuary known as the “Amen Corner.” I was the third of three sons and I well remember my dad teaching us how to shine our shoes on Saturday night, making sure that we used the “brown” brush for brown polish and the “black” brush for black polish. Sunday morning we all dressed up in full three-piece suits (which were annually purchased in preparation for Easter Sunday) and faithfully lined up in the bathroom so our dad could slick our hair down with Bryl Cream (remember, “a little dab will do ‘ya!”). My Dad loved great preaching. He was always talking about good sermons he had heard, often on these huge reel-to-reel tapes we had purchased. Sometimes, he would take us to hear a good sermon in neighboring churches. One time we even went down to historic Auburn Avenue, just a few blocks from the boyhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Wheat Street Baptist church and heard our first African American preacher. Early on I was learning the power of the preached Word!

On Tuesday night I attended Boy Scouts in the basement of the church. In 1977 the church sponsored a special ceremony to celebrate my receiving the Eagle Scout award. Wednesday nights were known as “Family Night at Grace” where we all gathered for a common meal and then went to small groups for Bible study or special classes, like woodcarving, for enjoyment and enrichment. Youth group was on Friday night and the weekend frequently involved boarding a bus to go on a retreat, a camping trip or some other outing. My family also owned a cabin at Camp Glisson, a United Methodist campground located in the North Georgia mountains, where we spent many weekends playing in Cane creek and building great memories as a family. However, we always drove back to Atlanta late Saturday night so that we wouldn’t miss Sunday morning worship at Grace to hear the preaching of Dr. Sam Coker! As kids we sometimes resisted going out for Sunday night service. So my Dad established another family tradition. On the way to church we would stop by the corner store a few blocks from church and we could each pick out a roll of ring shaped mints known as LifeSavers. The five flavor rolls were my favorite. My mother and dad always got the Mint-O-Green. If the sermon went on a bit long, my dad would give us the nod and we would quietly slip one out and eat it during the service. I probably had a LifeSaver mint in my mouth when I was formally confirmed in the church and received one of those beautiful new RSV Bibles in 1971!

The world has changed quite a bit since those years. However, looking back, I realize that in a hundred different ways my parents were giving us a love for the church. We were learning that the church is a life saver. It is a place to hear God’s Word, to receive the grace of Christ and the means through which Christ equips and sends his people forth as his ambassadors to a lost world. Yes, the church is a life saver – I still believe it today. Asbury Theological Seminary must never forget that we are first and foremost a servant of Christ and his Church.

The church was always at the center of my life. Grace United Methodist church in Atlanta has a tradition of the entire congregation coming forward to kneel and pray at the altar at the end of the Sunday night service. My parents had met at the altar of Grace as youth in 1951 during the ministry of Dr. Charles Allen. In 1960, my parents brought me as a baby back to that same altar where I was baptized by Dr. Cecil Myers. In fact, years later, when Dr. Myers preached a revival service at the Nacoochee United Methodist church where I pastored, he told me that I was the first child he had baptized at Grace church. I also grew up an avid Boy Scout, and troop 444 was sponsored by Grace United Methodist church. I also belonged to the Youth group and sang – or tried to sing – in the youth choir. The youth choir was the third choir I had sung in after the cherub choir and the carol choir. I was one of those children who stood in the cherub choir waving at my parents while we were supposed to be singing All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Sunday morning and night we worshipped as a family. I can still remember the grandeur of the sanctuary; the massive pipe organs, the beautiful stained glass windows, helping to pass the massive gold offering plates with velvet bottoms, my mother’s earnest prayers, and the quiet hush which came over us when we entered the sanctuary. My mom and dad always made sure that we sat in a particular transcept of the sanctuary known as the “Amen Corner.” I was the third of three sons and I well remember my dad teaching us how to shine our shoes on Saturday night, making sure that we used the “brown” brush for brown polish and the “black” brush for black polish. Sunday morning we all dressed up in full three-piece suits (which were annually purchased in preparation for Easter Sunday) and faithfully lined up in the bathroom so our dad could slick our hair down with Bryl Cream (remember, “a little dab will do ‘ya!”). My Dad loved great preaching. He was always talking about good sermons he had heard, often on these huge reel-to-reel tapes we had purchased. Sometimes, he would take us to hear a good sermon in neighboring churches. One time we even went down to historic Auburn Avenue, just a few blocks from the boyhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Wheat Street Baptist church and heard our first African American preacher. Early on I was learning the power of the preached Word!

On Tuesday night I attended Boy Scouts in the basement of the church. In 1977 the church sponsored a special ceremony to celebrate my receiving the Eagle Scout award. Wednesday nights were known as “Family Night at Grace” where we all gathered for a common meal and then went to small groups for Bible study or special classes, like woodcarving, for enjoyment and enrichment. Youth group was on Friday night and the weekend frequently involved boarding a bus to go on a retreat, a camping trip or some other outing. My family also owned a cabin at Camp Glisson, a United Methodist campground located in the North Georgia mountains, where we spent many weekends playing in Cane creek and building great memories as a family. However, we always drove back to Atlanta late Saturday night so that we wouldn’t miss Sunday morning worship at Grace to hear the preaching of Dr. Sam Coker! As kids we sometimes resisted going out for Sunday night service. So my Dad established another family tradition. On the way to church we would stop by the corner store a few blocks from church and we could each pick out a roll of ring shaped mints known as LifeSavers. The five flavor rolls were my favorite. My mother and dad always got the Mint-O-Green. If the sermon went on a bit long, my dad would give us the nod and we would quietly slip one out and eat it during the service. I probably had a LifeSaver mint in my mouth when I was formally confirmed in the church and received one of those beautiful new RSV Bibles in 1971!

The world has changed quite a bit since those years. However, looking back, I realize that in a hundred different ways my parents were giving us a love for the church. We were learning that the church is a life saver. It is a place to hear God’s Word, to receive the grace of Christ and the means through which Christ equips and sends his people forth as his ambassadors to a lost world. Yes, the church is a life saver – I still believe it today. Asbury Theological Seminary must never forget that we are first and foremost a servant of Christ and his Church.

Comments

  • Kaleb Heitzman says:

    Dr. Tennent, thanks for your words!

  • Meghan Watts says:

    Thank you for sharing about what impact the church has made on you through your youth. Its refreshing to learn more things and the experiences that you have gone through to see who you are today. My prayers go out to you and your family as you transition into your role here at Asbury Seminary!

  • Michael Flowers says:

    As I was directed to the Asbury Seminary site to find a chapel sermon I saw the face of my beloved, college roommate! Congratulations to you my friend! Let’s reconnect soon!

  • Gary Taylor says:

    What a joy-filled surprise. And what a pleasure it was to make a few memories with you any many of our friends at YHC and ORU. Make a difference my brother for the glory of God. I’ll be looking out for you. TBear

  • Pat Richmond says:

    You really brought back memories of my own childhood. Our childhoods seem very alike although my memories go back as far as the 1940’s. As a small child, my family attended St. Johns Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. Like you, our family sat together in the same pew every Sunday and dressed in our best – fussy dresses, white gloves, and black patten shoes. My sister and I were always in the choir and, as we grew older, sang duets at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington when we moved to KY in 1957. Like your parents, my parents were always involved in the church – teaching Sunday School, helping with meals, and often helping others. From their example, I learned early on in life to help others, and be a volunteer. Even my summers at my grandmother’s in Hayesville, NC (located in the beautiful Smokey Mountains)was spent teaching bible school at Truitt Baptist Church and being a counselor at the Baptist Church Camp in KY. One of my favorite things was helping in the church nursery.
    You are right that the world has changed quite a bit since those years but our parents gave us the most valuable gift they could – love for the church and for God and to serve him unconditionally.

    Thank you for taking me down memory lane and for reminding me how important our role is as a parent.

  • Robert Wilson (Bobby) says:

    Hi Tim,
    What a wonderful reflection and walk down memory lane. I was just talking with my sister, Cindy, about growing up at Grace Methodist Church. When I got off the phone, I googled it, and found your story. Of course I remember you and have fond memories of playing with your brothers Lee and Bobby. My family’s entire social life revolved around life at Grace and especially the other members of the Samaritan class. I remember those wonderful weekend retreats at Glisson, swimming out to the diving dock, drinking the coldest Orange Crush on the planet, and watching our parents performing goofy skits and plays. We, too, sat in the Amen corner, and I can still hear Dr. Meyer’s mellifluous voice, his humor and his heartfelt stories. He was very inspiring and for a while I wanted to grow up to be a preacher just like him. Instead, I became a motivational speaker and writer. Oh, one more thing… I still have the little dog we whittled in the wood carving class.

  • Sherra M. Bell says:

    I’m currently an active member at Grace UMC. I am one of many who are passionate about its survival and continued service to the community. A friend from another church told me about this post today and I’ve forwarded a link to our church office and current pastor (Dr. Jim Howell) to be sure it gets shared. There are likely still some of the historically faithful members among us who remember you when… You and they inspire me to transcend all of the challenges of church life to help create and nurture these kinds of memories for our future generations.

    Blessings to you on this new phase of your journey. We hope you’ll come visit Grace again soon!

  • Michael says:

    I remember attending scout meetings at my church. Great memories!

    Family Tents