©2018 Bill Murphy
Grace Methodist Church sat diagonally across the street from George Elementary School, on the north/west corner of Winter and Union streets. Why is it that you fail to take a snapshot of those people or places you most want to remember? Above is a photo taken by my mother sometime in the very late 40s, of a George School activity. I suppose I’m in there somewhere. Behind us is the old church building, before it was remodeled in the early 50s. The parsonage is immediately to the right. The white frame structure to the far left is the adjoining Sunday School rooms.
Grace was a neighborhood church, with no church parking lot. There was ample parking on the streets for those who drove. I walked to church many times.
This was my home church for my first 19 years. Dad was on the Board of Stewards, and Mom was Superintendent of the Primary Department. I sang in the choir when in high school.
Our family was always there – dependable, we were. Sometimes we did miss a Sunday or two, but only for a valid reason… such as vacations. Driving to Quebec, lower Florida, Vancouver, or deep into Mexico… on those pre-interstate 2 lane highways, you needed all the travel time available. But our family attended church as we traveled – so that my sister and I could still be in the perfect attendance category. One Sunday morning in Utah, we couldn’t find a Methodist Church anywhere – so we attended a Mormon service held in the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
I dearly loved Grace Methodist Church. I am who I am today largely because of the instruction, foundation and examples I received from Grace Church.
I’m blessed to have participated in many memorable, spirit-filled, soul-jarring, life changing worship services in other churches over the years, yet I can truthfully say that none of those ‘pinnacle’ services compare to a typical service at Grace Church. How? Why?
Because Grace Church was what it was! I miss those wonderful days there, the place we thought of as “God’s House.” We considered it to be a Holy Place. And why did we feel this way and why did we feel such awe in simply entering the building? Because… as small kids, we were taught that it was not just a building. We were taught that it was “The House of God,” as if He dwelled there! We learned to reverence it, respect it, and love it. It was special… very, very special. And because of this, we expected Him to be there with us and among us each time we entered that Holy place.
Were we lied to? Was this some adult trick or ploy to make us behave? Hardly. Scripture plainly tells us that where two or three are gathered together in His name, then He is there! (Matthew 18:20). And we knew to respect and reverence not only His presence which actually was there, but also His ‘house.‘ It was all real, very real.
Grace church was never locked when I was a child. It was alway open to those who wished to enter, to feel His presence and love, to come kneel and pray. There was a water fountain in the hallway of the ‘education’ department… and on hot summer days, we kids often entered the church to cool off and drink. Although just a hot and sweaty pack of 8, 10, or 12 year olds, our parents may as well have been watching over our shoulders. When we passed over the threshold, our very countenance transformed, automatically. Why? Because we knew to respect and to reverence that place, be it Sunday morning during church service or Tuesday afternoon. We had been taught to give honor where honor was due… and God’s ‘house’ was due our honor and respect! We neither talked loud nor ran in the hallways. We had ingrained respect for where we were – because we’d been taught to have that respect.
I appreciate those life-lessons more and more each day that I live.
We didn’t have a ‘praise and worship leader’ at Grace Church. But we had praise… and we had worship. We had both in bountiful measure. We had a choir director, but his duty was to direct the choir, not to serve as a cheer-leader. We didn’t require a cheer-leader, because we knew that God was there, in our midst. One could not help but feel His presence. It was easy to worship Him at Grace Church. This was His House! And we respected it. We hallowed it. I think that it was this ‘attitude’ of respect and reverence that we brought with us to church that made it so easy, so natural, to worship. We passed through the door expecting to meet Him inside! And we were never disappointed!
My very favorite memories of Grace Church were the Sunday night services. After 2 or 3 songs, and the announcements were read, the pastor gave his message. Then we sang another hymn. The lights were lowered, giving one just enough illumination to see, and then the pastor told us that the altars were open for those who wished to come and pray. I always went forward. There, in that darkened and quiet time, in that Holy place, it was as if I was not among dozens, but rather, alone with God. It was so easy to feel His presence, His loving hand on my shoulder, His breath on my cheek. It was just the two of us. I worshiped Him. And He filled my young heart with His presence, and His love. It was like Heaven on earth. I treasure those memories. To think that the creator of the universe paused long enough to spend quality time with me! A reverent soul is but putty in the hands of God.
Alas… Grace Church is no more. Even the new building grew old… and time marched ever onward. Folks prospered and moved away to bigger and better things. Due to his strong work-ethic, Dad continued to get promotions at Jitney Jungle. He and Mom moved away from Evergreen, to a larger, nicer home in north/east Jackson. The congregation of Grace Church began to dwindle… until it was no more. Sitting unused and uncared for, the leaking roof began to collapse. A few years ago, the building was leveled. Where the House of God once stood, and where heaven once opened its doors to a young boy… is now but a vacant lot.
Grace Church may be gone – but Grace Church is not forgotten! Not in this heart anyway.