The saints began to trickle in. There was Old Mrs. Robinson, a widow from two years into a sweet marriage but living alone for the last 47 years. She was making tea and coffee. Peter Frampton (no relation) had come early and had helped set up the chairs to the rented community hall, ostensibly for a social gathering. Anthony Fresco, a middle-aged bachelor and old-school gentleman was greeting everyone at the door with a big smile and overwhelming gestures of bowing and addressing the members of the congregation by name and with appropriate comments to the ladies new hair-do, or pretty dress or whatever; making them feel special even though they had heard it all before.
Jonathan and Abagail Albright arrived with a surprise for everybody. They had their two kids in tow! They must have got them back from the State very recently as their kids were very animated and vocal with their parents and happy to be back in the familiar circle of the assembly. The love in that family was sweet to behold. Young George, the autistic fellow who struggled with same-sex attractions showed up as usual. He had come with Jin Lang, an immigrant from China. They were good friends and shared a clear devotion to Jesus, their greatly-loved Lord. They sat with the rest of the teens in the front left side of the sanctuary at the insistence of Jason Bullar, the teens overseer.
They came into the space in ones and twos until there was about 80 of them…some poor and struggling and some a little more comfortable, of various races from various continents, and with various life-stories but singular in their walk with God. It was a very inclusive group, it seemed. There were still more that were unable to attend because they sat in a jail downtown for saying things the State didn’t like. They were the Church.
Pastor Phil stood in front of them and appreciated them back. Philip MacDonald had been in this particular pulpit for 17 years and had seen many come and go but they were all prayed for and loved as they came and went. His wife would have been there but she was awaiting a trial for confronting the wrong person outside an abortion clinic. Phil missed her terribly as he led the worship He kept it somewhat quieter than before so as not to bring attention to the meeting, but it was still heart-felt and spiritually engaging.
Pastor Phil then sat down for a short while as Maggie, the church secretary, stood up to take the limited offering, again reiterating as only she can that the blessings of God was on the giver but the blessings of tax exemption from the State was no longer something they enjoyed. That comment broke into the pastor’s thinking. “That has made things difficult”, thought Pastor Phil. “It really gets in the way of the good things the church had done for the surrounding community.” He didn’t know how the State would pick up that slack. There were so many needy people within the community where the church building once stood, a few blocks away. That building is now standing empty.
Maggie then started to say some announcements to the gathered congregation. “Diane and Fred need our prayers. They have been found to be outside of the law again and so are now in jail for a week.” She said matter-of-factly. “If anyone can spare some food, their boy, young Bill would sure appreciate some help over that time.” Martha Granville stood up and said, “Send him my way. I’ll look after him and my house is closest to his school.” There were murmurs of acknowledgement and pleasantry all round.
After a few more announcements like that were voiced and accounted for, Pastor Phil got up and stood again in front of the beloved congregation. “We are going to talk about Romans 6 tonight”, he said. “I thought that it was prudent to leave my bible in its secret place with the knowledge that when I take it out, I run the risk of losing it. So I asked, especially, that John Sentry was going to be here tonight, and there he is!” Pastor Phil extended his hand to the right side of the room, towards a man seated in the front row, dressed in a bit of a threadbare suit with a subdued tie and polished shoes.
John Sentry stood up and made his way to the front to stand with Pastor Phil. “So John, if you will, please give us the first 4 verses of Romans 6”, encouraged the pastor.
John smiled as he spoke the verses. It was his obvious joy that one of his chapters had been chosen. As he spoke, most in the room closed their eyes, trying to envision the words as they poured out of his heart and into their’s. Bibles were rare among the faithful after the State had banned them and so each had memorized a few chapters of the New Testament, leaving their precious copies hidden at home. They were working on the goal of including the Old Testament in their repertoires shared among them
John began reverently. He spoke the memorized verses with reverence and courage, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
John finished his recitation and sat down. Pastor Phil took up the theme and began to speak of what “newness of Life” looked like…tasted like…acted like. The congregation was profoundly moved by his exposition. It was a good sermon.
The great risks all the people had made, really paid off. They had had to sneak around to get to the location so as not to be seen by the authorities. The proof of the pudding as they say is in the eating…Well, the proof of the goodness of the service is if nobody gets arrested on their way home. To accomplish this, they left quietly in couples or alone. They slipped into the night and disappeared into the surrounding community until the pastor was the only one left.
He knelt down to pray into the night for their safety and for their continued walk of faith. Then he too walked out into the darkness.