Last week a friend asked me if I would miss the Lions Community Center in New Lenox, Illinois, as our place of worship when we move into our new building in Joliet next month. “What an odd question,” I thought. “What would I miss about this community center?”
There certainly are aspects of meeting for worship here that I won’t miss, such as the occasional stale cigarette smell left over from a party the night before, the loud music we have sometimes heard through the wall during our service, and the way we have been reminded that it is time to leave after the evening service, when we have lingered too long.
But upon reflection, our nineteen years here at the New Lenox Lions Community Center does have significance to me.
Many children of the families here today have attended worship in this humble building for most of their childhood. They have run through these halls; they have made best friends here. Two of these friends, Nate and Sonia, actually grew up here together and got married to each other! Our children have played hundreds of games of soccer on warm summer evenings outside in the field. They have climbed the trees after church, and walked to McDonalds from here for a bag of fries and a shake after the evening service. They have sought out Elder LeMahieu for a peppermint and Gina Murany for a candy treat. They have been baptized here, have confessed their faith here, and have first enjoyed the Lord’s Supper here.
During one Lord’s Supper a few years ago, it was Mother’s Day, and as the elders were distributing the cup, our daughter, Gracie, whispered to me that she was feeling ill. After I assured her that she was probably fine, she fainted right across my lap! Unfortunately, Dr. Ambrose was not in his usual spot behind us that day. I looked around, caught the eye of our son, Nate, and said, “We need a doctor!” We stretched Gracie out across the chairs in the front row, her hands folded across her body. Sue Kapke called an ambulance, and then we all waited in silence for a few minutes. That silence meant a lot to me. It was a visual expression of an invisible reality—the reality of the body of Christ. When one member of the body is in need, the attention and prayers of the other members are focused on that need.
Finally, my husband (pastor Bruce Hollister) said, “Well, we should complete the Lord’s Supper.” So, as Gracie lay stretched out on the chairs, we all drank the cup and sang the Doxology. And then we waited for the ambulance. Later, Gracie said that as the congregation sang the Doxology, and she was beginning to regain consciousness, she thought (in her semiconscious state) that she was at her own funeral service! Thankfully, there was nothing seriously wrong, and she was home by the afternoon.
The Lions Community Center is where many children of our congregation have learned to love the Lord. Many of them have served on the setup and takedown crew, and many are now serving as the sound system setup crew, Sunday school teachers, song leaders, and deacons. Some of them are now moms and dads themselves, bringing their own children to worship. In this building, our children have learned to take their place as adults within the community of believers. This is not a small thing to us or to the Lord.
I warmly remember my husband preaching hundreds of sermons at the Lions Community Center. From my vantage point, where I sit, I can see his posture from the side. I have seen him leaning forward to press a point, standing up on tiptoe, kicking out his right foot, and even (on a rare occasion) jumping! Hundreds of times from him and from Pastor Strange, we have heard of the incredible love of the Blessed Trinity, the perfect work of Christ on the cross, and the double imputation that perfectly meets our need. On one occasion, Bruce was telling us just how needy we are (as Pastor Strange says, we are full of putrefaction, from the top of our head to the bottom of our feet). Bruce explained that even our children are sinful, and if they don’t want to obey their parents, then, perhaps, they are still in need of a new heart. At that point, from directly behind me, five-year-old Jaylyn Brown said loudly and clearly, “Oh brother, I need a new heart!” So, our children can pay close attention during the sermons.
We loved to hear Chris Eichler, when he was younger, echo Bruce from time to time, in his own way. If you were listening carefully, after Bruce clapped his hands or slapped the pulpit, you could often hear Chris clapping his hands in response. Sunday school teachers know that our children pay attention to the sermons, as best they can for their tender age.
One Sunday during the Christmas season several years ago, I was asking the first- and second-grade grade class what they knew about the birth of Christ. They were all eager to repeat parts of the story. When I asked, “Who were the wise men, and what did they do?” one young student raised his hand first. “ I know, I know!” he said. “Weren’t they the ones who brought Frankenstein to Christ?”
Another time I was finishing a lesson on why we meet for worship on the first day of the week, and we were about to close in prayer when one young boy raised his hand and said, “But I haven’t heard anything about the substitutionary death of Christ yet!” It is a wonderful blessing that our children are learning to know what to look for and what to expect in a sermon—and even in their Sunday school classes.
I have loved our Christmas Eve program! One Christmas Eve, my mom and dad (who were not members of the church) came to the service. They joined in the singing, and listened as the Scriptures were read. When it came time that the offering plate was passed around, I watched them out of the corner of my eye. They began to argue about whether they should put anything into the plate or not. My dad didn’t want to, but my mom did. Their deliberation got louder, and I was getting concerned. Then, my mom, who was very frustrated by this time, said in a loud whisper (and I won’t repeat her words verbatim), “Get your wallet out, Theodore! It’s their custom!” My dad reluctantly added a small contribution.
This is the place where we have met together as a congregation for almost a fifth of a century. Establishing a church takes a particular kind of pioneer spirit. Many believers would not feel comfortable meeting in a place like this. They may choose to worship in a place that appears to be more “permanent,” and there is nothing wrong with that! But we have reaped substantial benefits as we have met in this temporary place. In particular, we have enjoyed a singleness of mind and purpose, a unity of heart and spirit. We have learned in some measure to love one another, fervently, from the heart. This also is no small thing.
So, getting back to my friend’s question, will I miss the Lions Community Center in New Lenox when we move into our new building in Joliet next month? Actually, no—not at all. But I am thankful for the time we have met here. God has richly blessed us.
The author is a member of New Covenant Community Church in Joliet, Ill. New Horizons, April 2014.