I estimate that the First Assembly of God, Wynne, Arkansas, was about three-quarters full. At least, that was my impression as I looked around the sanctuary. But it isn't a sanctuary, it's a Nave. We got trouble.
As far as I was concerned, Sunday, May 12, 2013 was the Seventh Sunday of Easter. It was also, incidentally, Mother's Day. I was privileged to be invited, along with Mr. Powers, my sister-in-law, and a gaggle of my mother-in-law's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to Mother's Day services at the Assembly of God that mother-in-law Imogene calls home. The building is pretty big for small-town Arkansas, and I understand there was a time when a visitor could barely find a place to sit. Unfortunate rifts within the congregation changed all that, but a new pastor and a few new families seem to have brought many of the faithful back where they belonged. Ms. Imogene was among the returning parishioners, and she was happy to discover that there is still a kind of competition among the moms there to see which one gets the most sons, daughters, grandchildren, and in-laws to show up. I think she did well. There were about a dozen of us, and we took up one whole pew and half of another.
Like I said, we got trouble, speaking of pews. There is nowhere to kneel in an Assembly of God, although they wouldn't say anything to you if you up and knelt in the aisle. The pew itself has nothing to do with their worship, because they do not sit to learn. They sit when they are socializing before the service or when they are tired of standing. There are no hymnals, so if you haven't heard the hymn they're singing, you fake it. If they are singing verse 12, and you're tired of faking it, you sit down. That is not a problem at all, since the songs are just a warm-up for THE SERMON.
Forgive my over-capitalization, but THE SERMON is the centerpiece of worship here. There is no Eucharist, therefore no altar, and no communion rail. The pulpit is front and center, but in fairness to Brother K., he doesn't stay put anyway. His SERMON was not an Easter season message, although St. Mary figured largely in the scheme of what he had to say. He preached that day on Motherhood. Not motherhood, which is just a state of being a female parent, but Motherhood, an unassailable, unfathomable, thankless, sanctified position which would make all us moms candidates for sainthood. He didn't call any of us saints, though, not even St. Mary. Instead he drew parallels between contemporary moms' and St. Mary's trials as she raised Our Lord, and begged us not to feel guilty if our offspring had gone astray. Apparently some ladies felt guilty anyway, because there were tears a-plenty. I looked around from time to time, because (being Episcopalian) I am sensitive to the need for doing as others do. Ergo, if I am unsure what to do, I stand when others stand, I sit when they sit, and I say AMEN right out loud if it seems to be the end of a prayer. However, I don't cry on cue, and I wasn't feeling sad, so I thought I would get a consensus: Is everybody crying or just moms? Is there something I am missing? Should I maybe hold a Kleenex? (There is a box of tissue on each pew.) I didn't get to wonder very long. Brother K. said,
"I am WELL AWARE that SOME of you are NOT from the Pentecostal tradition!" Gulp. That would be me. I looked behind me, and there wasn't a dry eye to be seen. Yep, he was talking to me. Granted, no one would have cared if I'd shouted, "Amen to that!" but I didn't. I just stared back at him, mortified. I needn't have been. He only wanted to re-assure us heathens that it would be perfectly fine if we chose not to holler out, weep or spontaneously kneel in the floor, and that we were welcome to enjoy the presence of God in any way we wanted to. I was grateful. After all, my old home parish, All Saints', had a blurb on the back of the service order that reassured visitors that they could kneel--or not--as they dang well pleased.
So I relaxed and stopped waiting for the Lord's Prayer, a Creed, or anything I might know the tune to. After all, I was being praised, extolled, and thanked for bringing two ruffians into the world and raising them while "soaking comforters and blouses with tears." (Well, I wasn't much of a crier even then.) I realized that my fellow worshippers were having the time of their lives praising God, joyful just to be in His house. (It's a NAVE!) I got comfortable a little too soon because there is a sidebar to the centerpiece, which is the ALTAR CALL. (It's a table which may or may not have the sacraments laid out for communion. On this day, it did not. It had our Mother's Day presents.)
Now, I was quite prepared to sing as many verses of "Only Trust Him" as necessary for the altar call. But these are not Baptists, and I think "Only Trust Him" has fallen by the wayside. What Brother K. did then was as sly as a preacher should ever be. He invited ALL the MOTHERS to just come on down front and receive a FREE GIFT and the thanks of the rest of the congregation. I could not avoid this. Every one of my kinfolks knows that Mr. Powers and I have those two ruffians I mentioned, so I could not slink down in my pew or pretend to read the bulletin. I had to go forward. Well, there were a bunch of us, so I stood as far to the right as I could without being detached from the crowd. I was on the second of three rows of moms. Ms. Imogene grabbed my left hand, and I grabbed her granddaughter's left hand with my right, so I didn't have to hold hands with a lady I'd never seen before. I refrained from saying "Peace be with you," and it was all good, because the majority had stopped sniffling and were praying for each other. They gave us our gifts--a pen with a matching bookmark--and we milled around and returned to our pews. There was no benediction, no "Thanks be to God! Alleluia, alleluia," but there were smiles all around and congratulations for my mother-in-law, who did, after all, fill up a pew and a half with family.
Mr. Powers and I shook the preacher's hand on the way out the door. He encouraged us to VISIT again whenever we could. So he did have me pegged as the non-Pentecostal in the bunch. I wonder how he knew?
No matter. I received a blessing that day. I felt appreciated. I was honored to be included with my husband's folks and their little kids. I loved being with people who enjoy being in the presence of God in His house. Even if it is a Nave.