Simple Church

Church doesn’t come much simpler or worship much purer than Corinth Church, a few miles east of Double Springs, Alabama. I preached there last Sunday morning at their 8:30 service. The place was packed out; maybe 45 people were present. They turned off the butane heater, occupying the center of the platform where a pulpit would normally sit, just before the service started.

No electricity, no lights. No cushions on the pews. No piano, no organ, no keyboard, not even a harmonica. No bathrooms, no water fountains. No robed choirs, no stained glass windows, no carpets on the floor. It’s just a room, and a small one at that. No printed bulletins, no projectors, and no screens on the wall. No announcements, no special music. And, in case you are wondering, no babies, no children, and no teenagers either. So no nursery, no classrooms, and no noise.

Corinth Church was started sometime around 1857, typical of the little one-room church houses so prevalent in rural, primitive America at the time. As the country prospered and people moved to town and then the society became more mobile, more educated, and more demanding of its institutions, the Corinth churches of our land were mostly abandoned.

This one was was shut down sometime in the early 1980s; the wonder is that it held out that long. Then, on May 25, 2003, some neighbors decided to reopen the building and have services. It’s been going on ever since. The reason I’m so exact about the years and the dates is they gave me one of their fans. It’s all printed on it.

Bill Wilson is the pastor. “I have to leave as soon as the service is over,” he told me. “I’m the pastor of the Nazarene church at Black Pond.” He and I wore the only suits in the house.

I asked the congregation, “Is this a Baptist church?” Yes. “Are you all Baptists?” Nope. Lots of shaking heads.

“How many of you are Methodists?” A couple of hands. “Nazarenes?” The preacher and one other. “Baptists?” Lots of hands.

I named other denominations and got a smattering of response. “We had a Catholic one Sunday,” someone said. It’s not far from the resort area of Smith Lake, so presumably they attract from that area.

I asked, “When we leave here, how many of you will go on to another church?” About a third of the hands went up.

“The obvious question then is, why are you here?”

Two or three spoke up and others were nodding and voicing their agreement. “We get something here we don’t get in the other churches. We get fed.” “The worship is better.” “There’s just something about worshiping out here.”

A member of the law enforcement community was present. Someone told me later the reason he comes is “no politics.”

I was struck by the hymnal they were using, the Broadman. That lovely old songbook was replaced by the Baptist Hymnal over a half-century ago. Somehow it seems right at home in Corinth, though.

As the service began, George said, “Let’s sing ‘Rock of Ages.'” I knew it all by heart, which is a wonder because I’ve not been anywhere where that hymn was hoisted in decades. A shame, too.

Dorothy volunteered that the benevolence committee was taking up an offering to help someone. So they have some structure and they’re doing some mission work. That’s good.

In recent days, the pastor of a mega-mega-church has been in the news to confess that the seeker-friendly type methodology their church developed and employed for years to attract thousands to their services is not doing the job. It’s pulling in the large numbers but not building disciples of Jesus Christ, he admitted.

Bill Hybels might want to check with the good folks at Corinth Church just outside Double Springs. Seems to me we could all learn something from what they’re doing. As well as what they’re not doing.

I had to pick my mother up at 10:30 to get to her church services, some 20 miles away, but I went with a dozen or more of the Corinth folks to Woody B’s restaurant a couple miles further east on 278. They have breakfast there after the service each Sunday. Woody was in church too, and invited me to come out. They seemed to be the only diners in the place, and they continued the sweet fellowship they were enjoying a few minutes earlier.

New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church some 3 miles outside Nauvoo has been my family’s home church since just after 1900. It’s the only church my 91-year-old mother has ever belonged to. Pastor Mickey Crane has been there some 30 years. Attending church there is like going home.

Recently, one of our New Orleans pastors made the trip to Nauvoo for my father’s funeral, “How did you find this place?” I asked. “Mapquest,” he said. And then he told me how surprised he was, driving down these rural highways, expecting to find a little primitive building–perhaps like Corinth–and suddenly, this modern facility of good size appeared in front of him. They run 200 in worship, and people drive in from long distances. The church bulletin lists lots of activities going on, most of it seemingly for children and youth.

Sunday night, we drove 15 miles to Jasper to attend the concert of Nashville’s “No Other Name” singing group. They–Laura, Sam, and Chad–were accompanied by singer and pianist Stacy Beam (of Arab, Alabama, I think), and did an all-Christmas program. I accused them of stampsbaxterizing those songs, which they did–and they were incredible, as always. If you ever get a chance to hear them, don’t miss it.

Three churches, all different in a hundred ways, all wonderful in various ways.

So, which church would I join if I had the opportunity to choose among the three? I’d be one of those that went to Corinth early, then went on to another. I’d want it both ways.

Years ago, I spoke at a Lenten service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, Mississippi, where I was pastoring at the time. Afterwards, we were all having lunch in their parish hall when Lydia, the minister’s wife, said, “Joe, you’d make a good Episcopalian.” I said, “Last Sunday afternoon, I worshiped with the African-American Baptist Church down on 14th Street, and loved it. I really enjoyed your service today. And I like our church. You know what I’ve figured out?”

“What’s that?”

I said, “I’m just your basic garden-variety Christian, at home with the Lord’s people, wherever that happens to be.”

And I like it that way, I will admit.

1 thought on “Simple Church

  1. Joe,

    Truth be told, we all wish we could go back to the simplier ways of worship. Thanks for taking me down memory lane. Been there… done that… like going back.

    Pastor Terry Rainwater

Comments are closed.