On Being Invited to Church comment (0)
June 26, 2014
By Bob Terry
We go to Digby Baptist Church and tonight we are having a men’s choir concert. We would be glad for you to go with us.”
That was the response of Joe van Heerden, owner of Come From Away Inn in Digby, Nova Scotia, to my question about what my wife Pat and I should experience during our three days in the quaint fishing village that promotes itself as the “Scallop Capital of the World.”
Joe’s wife, Sharon, was born and reared in Digby and though she lived many places she could not escape the long family roots that tied her to the village. Her ancestors were Empire Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War. When the British lost the war Sharon’s family had to flee their homes in New Jersey and resettle in the wilderness of Nova Scotia. The captain of the ship that brought them to their new home was Admiral Robert Digby of His Royal Majesty’s Navy for whom the town is named. His ship was called the Atalanta.
Sharon’s family roots go back almost that far in Digby Baptist. It has been the family church home for at least five generations. The church has met in the same building since 1875. Joe has been a member since moving from his native South Africa about 20 years ago. He said he found the church warm and friendly so it was easy for him to invite us to share in the men’s choir program that Sunday evening.
Worshipping through music
I am not sure how many inn keepers invite their guests to go to church with them, but I am glad this one did. It was a great evening, much like it would have been in most Alabama Baptist congregations. The experience was not as much about the quality of the music as it was about the joy of worshipping through music and the fervency of faith.
The men’s choir was composed of seven senior adult men. They sang such favorites as “The Banner of the Cross,” “He Took My Sins Away” and “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary.”
Pastor Donald Robertson interspersed Bible reading emphasizing Jesus’ mission to save sinners and the difference Christ makes in a life. The prayers urged lost people to accept Christ as personal Savior and Christians to be channels of God’s blessings.
After the service Pat and I were invited to join the congregation in the church hall for refreshments and a time of fellowship. Like our inn-keeper host, we too found the people warm and friendly. A number of people even had ties to Alabama — family in Tuscaloosa, time spent in Mobile and work connections to Huntsville.
Had I not known better, I would have thought I was in any one of countless Alabama churches across the small towns and countryside of our state. But I was in a United Baptist church. United Baptists are an old established Baptist group located mostly in Eastern Canada although they have some churches in the New England states. Some of their churches would be called megachurches. Most are more like Digby Baptist, located in villages and towns across the Maritime Provinces.
The men’s chorus attracted around 100 people for the Sunday evening worship. Robertson said they have “a few more” on Sunday mornings. That is not a bad record for a community of about 2,000 with numerous churches nearby including other United Baptist churches. I wondered how many Alabama churches would have 100 people on Sunday evening. I also wondered how many churches would even try to have a men’s chorus with only seven men.
At age 80, Robertson is retiring at the end of June. A younger man has been called as the next pastor. Some in the church are concerned about the pastoral change. More are concerned about what the congregation will do for an organist. Mrs. Robertson has been church organist for 20 years. In her late 70s, she played both the organ and the piano with energy and technique that night, moving between the different instruments and musical styles with ease.
Again I wondered how many older servants of God are still going full-speed at Mrs. Robertson’s age. Too often one may quit, even when there is no one else to provide the ministry.
Pat and I got back to our waterfront room in time to see high tide on the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. I believe the local record is 42 feet. The tide is so strong that one town even has a reversible waterfall depending on whether the tide is going in or out.
But the primary memory of that day was not the tide or the natural beauty of the bay. It was the serendipitous experience of a Sunday evening worship service featuring a men’s chorus, and we got to experience it because our hosts invited us to go to church with them.
We got to worship with Baptist brothers and sisters outside our traditional Baptist family and see again that Baptists are Baptists most anywhere in the world. And it all happened because someone invited us to go to church with them. It was just another reminder that there is no telling what God will do when we invite someone to go to church with us.