Homecoming In Danville

"You Can't Go Home Again"
That's what Thomas Wolfe once wrote. He was wrong, though. You can go home. And every now and then you must.

To return to places and moments that have been significant in your life. To remember and be strengthened for the days yet ahead. To retrace your steps and go back to where you met your spouse, for example—or where you made your commitment to Christ. Occasionally I go and sit in the sanctuary of my home church in Suffolk—on the pew where I was sitting when I heard God call my name. Several years ago I returned to the mountains of Jamaica where, as a teenager, I clearly heard the call to ministry and said my "yes!".
This past weekend I returned to Danville and the Mount Hermon Baptist Church, where I served for almost seventeen years as pastor (1989-2005). It was their 175th Anniversary! There was an evening of music on Saturday, and then a great service on Sunday morning, followed by a covered-dish luncheon in their activities center. Hundreds and hundreds of current and former members came out in the rain and packed the facility. Twenty-four hours that left Audrey and me refreshed, encouraged, exhausted, and...thankful.

Pastor Steve Chromy had invited former staff members, Tommy and Susan Deal, and Jana Wolfe, to return for the weekend, too. Tommy was our Minister of Education and Administration for ten years. Susan was our Minister of Music during that decade and Jana followed her. Both these women are wonderful choral conductors and we served so well together for many years in that place. Saturday night's concert was filled with beautiful music from a large “reunion choir," quartets, ensembles and solos. Their incredible Creative Arts team performed, too--with original members from back in the day, and members from every generation of teenagers since--and they were exquisite! Testimonies were shared and precious names of some of the saints from years gone by were called out, bringing smiles of recognition and tears of gratitude that we had spent those days together.

There was more of the same the next morning, plus a sermon from me. As I moved around the room, talking to people and getting their hugs--ten year old Reece Haymore said to me: "You married my Mom and Dad."
"I sure did," I replied, with Greg and Amy looking on. "So, I suppose you can say that, if it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be here. I'm pretty much responsible for your birth.
He looked up and said “Thank you, Pastor Don."

Others reminded me of something I had said to them in the emergency room thirty years ago, or in some other time of crisis. I had long forgotten but they never would.

I reminded a beautiful young nurse of the day she was baptized as a child, when she informed me, just as she stepped into the pool, that she was feeling sick on her stomach and might throw up. She didn't, though, thankfully--and her baptism was flawless and obviously "took." She is still serving the LORD faithfully in that church.

Another young woman said, as she introduced me to the man standing beside her—“You were there when I was just a baby. You baptized me when I was a child. And when I get married, I want you to perform the ceremony." It would be an honor, I told her.

No church is perfect, of course. I am sure there were a few rough patches and difficult experiences along the way those years ago. But now, for the life of me, they do not come to mind. I only remember the good times, and the good work that God did in that church over the years.

And, this weekend, it seemed like that is all that these people could remember, too.

Audrey and I were talking later, on our ride home to Alexandria. About the unique privilege that pastors are given. To serve and do the best we can with what we have--and then to be invited back every now and then to renew all the relationships, to be thanked and appreciated for the work. I know that it doesn't happen like that in most jobs.

And then...to have the chance to do it all again for a few hours on a weekend in October.
Going home is nice. And remembering is good and healthy. But God doesn't do "encores.” He guides us into the future where He will do great, new things.

When Mount Hermon was celebrating its 150th anniversary, I asked my friend Pepper Choplin to compose an anthem to commemorate the milestone. He wrote "Give Us a Vision." The choir sang it on Saturday night. It beautifully and powerfully expresses what is always in my heart as a pastor--for Mount Hermon and now for First Baptist, Alexandria.
"We bring thankfulness for yesterday's blessings,
 We have hopes and dreams of days yet to be...
 Give us a vision, a vision of you. 
 Mold us and make us a people of truth.
 Come Spirit, feed us, and lead us to do
 Your holy mission,
 Oh, give us a vision of you."
I can't get that song out of my head.
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