I walked briskly down the sidewalk and through the door, barely aware of how many times I had crossed that threshold in years past. The meeting had already begun, and I was a few minutes late because of a hospital visit about an hour away.
As I settled into my seat and into the flow of the meeting, I realized just how familiar the place was to me. I was in Abingdon United Methodist Church, my home church, and as I looked around, I felt that I had just begun a conversation with a dear old friend.
The meeting was in the upstairs room with the miniature exterior door leading out onto the fire escape–both very enticing to my friends and me when we were young! I was just around the corner from the rooms that had been my Sunday school classrooms during my high school years.
Immediately below us was the room that had been the nursery when I was four years old. In that very room, I fell (as the pastor’s granddaughter chased me) and hit my head on the old steam radiator. Later that morning, I made my first visit to Johnston Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, where I got a few stitches. I instinctively rubbed the now thirty-six year old scar on my forehead as I shared that story with my fellow committee members.
I thought about my Sunday school teachers, pastors, and fellow choir members across the years. I thought of my grandmother, a Sunday school teacher herself, and I smiled to myself as I realized that the building had been alive with the laughter and footsteps of children just a couple of hours earlier. Those children are students in the Margaret Blair Preschool, a living memorial to my Memaw.
I didn’t have to walk into the sanctuary. It’s features are permanently etched in my memory from hundreds of Sunday mornings of observing them from the same vantage point in the fourth pew on the right side. It was the site of my grandmother’s funeral, my sister’s wedding, and my nephews’ baptisms. It was the site of my own confirmation, when I professed my faith in Jesus Christ before God and the dear people of that congregation.
When the meeting ended, I lingered at the entrance to the library, just at the bottom of the steps. I remembered where I sat at the table during that Bible study in 1989 when I think I realized for the first time exactly what the grace of Jesus Christ meant to me and for me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I really got to know Jesus in that room. Within a few months, in another library, the Kelly Library on the campus of Emory & Henry College, I would encounter Jesus once again and agree to live out this vocation of pastoral ministry.
I hesitated to walk away today. It would have been nice to sit for a while in the library and to take in the view of the sanctuary again from the fourth pew on the right, naturally.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Israel. I’ve been to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sinai peninsula. I’ve stood and walked in the footsteps of Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus. I had a wonderful, life-enriching experience in the Holy Land.
Today, as I stood in the library doorway at Abingdon United Methodist Church, I had as rich an experience of God’s presence as I had in any of those ancient sites. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have seen a burning bush nearby, because God reminded me today that I was on holy ground.
It was, after all, where I met Jesus Christ.