©Joy Dunlap https://joydunlap.com
My hometown church wasn’t the biggest, the fanciest or the wealthiest in town. But a lot of love was there. Love for God and love for each other.
The simple cross and stained-glass windows clearly identified it as a house of worship, and those wooden pews, well, those pews held family. Brothers and sisters in the bond of the Lord!
That church was filled with people walking with God, serving in ways that brought others on the path with them, and those seeking to find Him.
The rhythm of hymns like Victory in Jesus, The Old Rugged Cross and Just as I Am embedded in our minds and hearts as the organist and pianist released the music on Sundays. With hymn books in our hands, we learned not only the tunes but the words to those songs and others like Amazing Grace, Jesus Paid it All and I Surrender All.
Even the titles remind us of the cost and the call.
Vinesville was our church’s name. Some of the most impactful events of my life took place in that church. I got baptized and married there. Later, that building became another church carrying a different name. The people I knew from Vinesville passed away or moved away.
But the church never was just a building or the name. The church was the people – all those people connected to the Vine.
The name that mattered – the name that matters – is Jesus.
Jesus described himself as the VINE.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Know what else He mentioned in his comments about the vine and staying connected? Love.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:9-12
In that church, I saw love in action from Sunday School teachers who studied and shared the Word; from a youth pastor who inspired and expanded our horizons; and from countless volunteers who gave their time to help with activities and events.
I realized the value of missions and ministry on our youth trips to New Orleans and the Panama Canal – not only for those we went to, but for those of us who went. And I watched love demonstrated in our church family as people responded to those in need and rejoiced with them in happy times.
We experienced how challenges could be turned into adventures and opportunities. When the bus carrying our youth broke down in Tennessee, a local family welcomed us all into their barn. Later we ended up giving an impromptu performance in that small town, then two of the men from our church drove up a replacement bus to get us. We didn’t make it home when planned, but God used us right where we were!
I’m so grateful for the love of God shared, the lessons learned, and the friendships formed at that hometown church.
Fast forward some 40 plus years…
This past Saturday I joined over 80 people from our small church for a gathering. Most of those attending had been part of our church youth group at some point over a 10-12-year time. Our church believed and invested in growing and equipping the next generation of leaders through youth ministry days, church camps, mission trips, 5th quarter gatherings after football games, and more. One of the things that stands out about my hometown church is how so many people continued to serve the Lord wherever they went from there.
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:8
God moved in our midst at that church doing heart-changing work, and over the years He continued to move in lives as the branches stretched and grew to other places. Out of those youth groups at our small church came preachers, Bible study teachers, deacons, and worship singers, along with leaders in women’s ministry, missions, and response teams, and many others quietly serving in love.
God grew and extended the branches connected to the Vine but the people in that hometown church helped nourish them.
We weren’t a perfect church – none are. And, we weren’t – we aren’t – perfect people – none are. But in that hometown church we sought the heart of God, learned the Word of God, and shared the promise of God. And, we bonded together through the love of God.
At Vinesville, hearts were changed, and at this reunion hearts were recharged.
We reconnected with those who sat next to us in the pews, sang next to us in choirs, traveled with us on mission trips, and lived life alongside us in our hometown church.
We remembered and reminisced. We thought about those who influenced and impacted our lives at our hometown church. We traveled down memory lane via a slide show and mind teaser game about facts and happenings. And, we laughed and enjoyed being together.
Our hearts gave thanks to God.
Even though some of us hadn’t seen each other in decades, we felt connected.
Because we were. We are.
In the Vine and with each other.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:1-4
- What stands out most about your hometown church, or a place where you connected in the past with God and others?
- Who influenced and impacted your walk with the Lord as a youth (or adult)? Have you thanked them lately?
- In what ways are you impacting young people (or others) for the Lord right now?
- What community of God do you feel most connected to?
- What is a specific way you can demonstrate the love of God to others this week?
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
Life is Better When It’s Full – Joy-full, Thank-full, Purpose-full and Friend-full! ™