Fred Craddock tells the story about his first church. He was a seminary student and was assigned to a little church in the hills of Tennessee near Oak Ridge. His first impressions upon arriving there were good. It was a lovely little white frame church filled every Sunday with very friendly folks.
After he’d been there awhile he asked the old-timers why no one came to the church from the big government building project nearby. He had driven around the area and saw the people who lived in trailers and hastily built houses. There were so many children!
So Fred called the leaders of the congregation together: "We need to reach out in Christian love to the new folks who are here. They are our neighbors. God has placed a great new mission field in our own backyard! What a grand opportunity for us to be the church."
The chairman of the board stood up and said, "Oh, I don’t think so. These people just wouldn’t fit in here." “
“But” Fred argued with him, “These folks live right in our backyard. They need the church. We need to share the gospel with them."
That night the board passed a resolution. It read: “In order to be a member of this church you must own property in the county." The vote was unanimous, except for Fred, who was quickly reminded he couldn’t vote.
Years later, Fred had the opportunity to go back to this part of Tennessee. It took him a while because the area had changed. It had grown. At last he found his way to the church. It was still pretty, pristinely sitting on a hillside. He was somewhat surprised to see the parking lot filled with cars, trucks and motorcycles in the middle of the week. Outside he saw the new sign that hung on the church building.
The sign said, Barbecue All You Can Eat
It was not a church anymore. The church had died out. The pews were pushed against the walls, the organ into a corner. The restaurant that took its place was filled –“with all kinds of people, Parthians and Medes and Edomites and dwellers of Mesopotania”—all eating barbecue!
Fred turned to his wife and said, "It's a good thing this isn't a church anymore. Otherwise these people couldn’t be here!”
I remembered that story the other week as Anita and I made our way to a new restaurant in Wolfville. We had been looking at the Campaign for Kid’s Burger Wars, and this one caught our attention. It was at The Church Brewing Company, a new establishment which has moved into a old church that has amalgamated (a new word that I have learned in Canada. It means that 5 churches merged into one congregation.)
As we took our seat the pews were not to be seen, but the old hymn board was now displayed the list of beers. The pulpit area was a stage area where live music is played on weekends. The stain glass windows now overlooks the bar—where different spirits flow!
Now, while this is not a food review I have to say that their Holy Smokes Burger is one good burger! Gook luck getting your mouth around it! And the fries are perhaps the best I’ve had in Canada!
As we took our seat, The Band was heard over the sound system playing “Up on Cripple Creek.” Now it is not a worship song, but one that talks about a place where one is accepted, no matter what.
Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one
Sitting in a former church, reflecting on a recent article that forecast another 9,000 churches closing in the next decade in Canada, at least that many in the US, I wonder if perhaps our churches could learn something here. Maybe we should just serve a great hamburger, or barbecue and invite everyone to come to Cripple Creek. where their souls might be healed, their hunger fed, and their souls accepted.
Isn’t that the gospel?