Jim Goldsworthy

Some of what folks put on the signs in front of their churches is clever, but it also can be poignant and straight to the point.

A sign on one church I pass every day going to and from work says this: “STAY HEALTHY YOUR CHURCH MISSES YOU”

It’s not my church, but I understand the sentiment. I’m trying to stay well, and I know that my own church misses me because I miss it.

I don’t miss the building, but the people I’m accustomed to seeing in it on Sundays — most Sundays, anyway. Some people show up every Sunday, but others come less often. 

Until recent times, I had gone to my church every Sunday since December 1995 except for when I went to Gettysburg with Captain Gary as First Sgt. Goldy, or when it was called off for bad weather.

When we at Trinity Lutheran Church in Keyser and many others refer to the church, we mean the people — not the building.

People in the very early church didn’t have a building dedicated solely to the purpose of being a house of worship. Often they met in private homes and referred to the entire community of Christians as “the church.”

I’ve told you before that I rarely set foot in my church for 30 years — the building, that is, either the one I grew up in or the new one that replaced it — because I never felt like I belonged there.

This may have been the result of a flawed perception of the reality on my part. At any rate, I just wasn’t interested in it.

I started going again when my mother died. After her funeral, my father said one of the things he missed most since she had been left invalid by a stroke for 3 1/2 years was going to church with her. He was the head usher, and she was a lector, the choir director and one of the organists.

The only time they went was on the church’s 90th anniversary, and she was determined to get dressed up and in her wheelchair.

One person asked why they didn’t just wait 10 years and have a 100th anniversary, and the pastor said “Some of these people aren’t going to be around 10 years from now.”

Mom was one of them. So was Dad. When we had the centennial celebration, I went to it and took them along in my heart.

I could never have imagined how much my little church would mean to me.

I still sit in the same place where my dad and I used to sit together, in the back pew, close to some folks who mean the world to me. We share other things beside our faith.

I’m an usher (just like my dad) and I’m a lector and sing in the choir (just like my mom) and once in a while they ask me to lead the services and preach the sermon. The first time I did that it was a surreal experience. 

One lady I sit with now and then was a few years behind me in high school. Years ago, while I was still absent from church, my father the head usher asked her son to be an usher. He was nervous about it, but Dad told him, “It’ll be all right” — and it was.

Joel grew up and joined the Air Force. When he came home on leave one Sunday after I was an usher, I asked the head usher if he could join us.

This took Joel by surprise. I told him “It’ll be all right” — and he grinned because he knew what I was referring to, and it was all right.

I also never would have believed that I would sing in the choir, seeing as how I once was in the junior choir with two of my buddies. When the three of us quit at the same time, everyone else was relieved. We neither sang like angels nor acted like them.

Even though we could have done so because West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice decided early on that religious services were essential, Pastor Sally decided to suspend live, in-person services indefinitely and start recording the services and putting them online. Many other churches have done the same.

It’s for the well-being of the church members, a number of whom are elderly. I myself am 72, but don’t consider myself elderly. Neither do some of my friends who are about that age.

Old? We’ll show you “old,” you (bleep).

So far as I know, none of us are outraged about our rights being violated, nor do we feel that they have been.

We don’t like it, but it’s necessary, and we know it won’t be permanent. If they told us we couldn’t put our services online or we’d never be allowed to get together again, THAT is when the fury would be unleashed.

I have watched our online services and continue to appreciate Pastor Sally’s sermons. I often identify with what she says. Last Sunday she prayed that the Lord would help us find ways to let others know we love them, even though we’re separated from them.

It’s apt to be quite a while yet before we can get back together in person, and then it likely will be in the form of short services, without singing or communion, and practicing as much social-distancing as we can. 

I’m looking forward to that, but there will be no handshaking, girl-boy-hugging or brother-hugging and sister-hugging — which won’t be to my liking, or that of a lot of other folks.

Supposedly, no hugging. We may just say “To hell with it” and do it anyway. I love some of these people, and they love me. There’s a lot of love in my little church, and that’s the way it should be.

The faith I’ve found in my little church tells me we must persist, and ... It’ll be all right.

Some of those who centuries ago were instrumental in starting and growing our faith were tortured and thrown to the lions. Countless others have been persecuted and murdered for their beliefs since then.

What’s happening now is nothing in comparison to what others have suffered so they could pass on to us what we now have.

Eventually, this terrible storm will be over, and I’ll see my wonderful friends on the other side. For now, they are alive and well in my heart.

One thing they have helped me to learn is that if you don’t have faith ... you have nothing at all. Or, as I once said in a sermon, less than nothing.

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