Another Sunday — Southside II

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

I’ll admit that my second visit to Southside Baptist Church this past weekend started on the same footing as my last visit a few weeks ago — service had already started by the time I drove tardily into the parking lot.

From there, however, the differences began immediately. As I approached the doors, there were Pam and the girls coming in late, as well. Rodney shook my hand, welcomed me and handed me a bulletin. Tammy gave me a hug as I walked into the sanctuary. To be honest, I really don’t know who the other person that spoke was as I came in, but he knew me.

Point being, these were people I knew. Last time I was there, I was very aware that I was returning for the first time in about three years to my long-time church home, but it felt like returning home in much the same sense it would be to go back to a former house and find other people living there. I think I recognized only one face — the minister of music — last time I was there. This time was very different.

The second difference — the place was packed. During my journey, I’ve only been to a couple of services this packed. It was the complete opposite of the last time I was there. To be fair, since the last time, the church had gone from having two Sunday morning services to just one, but even so. It would have taken far more than two of the crowd at the last service I went to to equal what I saw this week.

The last time I visited, it was the Southside I was afraid I would find: largely emptied after the rift going on when I left, with a sermon focused on the fear that had taken root in the church.

This week was the Southside I had hoped I would find: filled with people — a mixture of long-term members I knew and fresh faces — and a dynamic, Bible-focused new preacher.

I’m glad I came back.

I’m pretty sure there was a lesson in it for me; other than the obvious fact that I shouldn’t judge a church based on one service on one Sunday. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but suspect I may find out before too terribly long.

I’m not sure what next week holds. I’ve had a couple of suggestions (in fact, they may have been suggestions for the same place, which would give them a little more weight). After revisiting Southside, I’m also now interested in going back to the church I grew up in before going there. And, after a Creative Arts team meeting on Sunday night, I may have to start spending more time at Sojourn. So we’ll see.

Another Sunday — Southside I

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

Southside Baptist Church

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started… and know the place for the first time.” — T.S. Eliot

I first became involved with Southside Baptist Church as a high school student when I went on a mission trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. I began attending the church with my family after that, continuing into the time I spent home from college. When I moved back to Huntsville eight years ago, one of my brothers was still attending Southside, and extended an invitation to attend with him. He left the church not long thereafter, but not before I had settled back in. I attended Southside for another five years after that.

After my divorce, however, I felt like it was time to leave. My sense of my place in the church was very much rooted in my ex-wife, and it was uncomfortable going without her. I wanted to go somewhere that I could start fresh, that people would know me for who I am, not who I’d been. And, at that point in time, Southside was having such major problems at the church that I felt like the church was too hurt itself to be able to really minister to my hurts.

I have a vague memory of going back to Southside for something not too long after the divorce, and it feeling really weird going by myself. The memory is vague enough that it may even have just been during the time before I left to find another church.

The long-time preacher who had been at the center of the divide in the church left around the same time I did, and I’d been curious what had happened in Southside after that division had been resolved, and a new pastor had been hired. But I’d just never made it back. After my journey led me to a Baptist church last month for the first time in over a year, I decided that maybe it was time I revisited Southside.

What I learned is that I’m going to need to go again to figure out what I’d learned. Southside currently has two Sunday morning services; this past week I went to the 8 a.m. service. What I found was not encouraging, and led me to wonder how well the church had survived the divide. Attendance was sparse, and the congregation skewed older than when I had been there before. But I didn’t know if that reflected the church as a whole, or if the two services felt radically different from each other.

Supporting the former thesis were the announcements that the church would be consolidating into one Sunday morning service in two weeks. Also, the preacher was out of town Sunday, but the associate pastor who brought the message talked a lot about the number of people in the church who had talked to him recently expressing fear. Being at the service felt like being an intruder at a private family discussion.

But I’m not leaping to conclusions, so I guess the main purpose of this post is to serve as backstory for the posts I’m going to be writing when I visit again to see what the later — or consolidate — service looks like.

To be continued …