If someone asks, “What are these wounds on your body?’ they will answer, “The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.” (Zech. 13:6).
We had to reluctantly sell the church building in Pennsylvania. I had a lot of memories there. Then my Dad died, less than a year after we lost my wife’s Mom. I met with the State District that year and after being licensed they offered me a full time position in a church located in the southern area of that State. They felt because of my enthusiasm and evangelistic spirit it would be a fit for me. I was glad for the opportunity. I started pastoring there in May of 1995. There was only one slight problem. Previously, the church had huge financial problems. Those problems ended up in a mortgage of hundreds of dollars a month. Unless a miracle took place it would have been a set up for failure. Every Sunday we traveled over an hour from our home and were committed to moving to the area and placed a down payment on a home within a few months.
I knew that we were in some sort of trouble when looking through the church file cabinets (that the secretary who eventually resigned kept under lock and key) I found newspaper clippings that were reports before I arrived on the churches unpopular decision to build a steel instead of wood structure. The church at that time was called the Cathedral of Praise. When the church was finally built it resembled a warehouse more than a traditional church structure. The people of that area were livid and I found clippings of cartoons that called the church, “The Warehouse of Praise.” Yes, there were cartoons of the church that I was pastoring! I realized at that moment that the district leadership was trying any kind of damage control and now, I was unknowingly part of their duplicitous plan.
Many of the people who were in leadership on the church board were lukewarm at best. People who had been in that church a while almost had an inbred manner about them awkward, rude and unpredictable. When I was calling for all hands on deck they were insulted. We lost some of those elders within a few months with limping excuses. They might as well told me their dog ate their Bible. This all began when I asked if some of these supposed elders wanted to lead in prayer in church and they did not want to at all. They were still spiritual infants! All of the board members instrumental in voting us in, slowly left, because they did not want to take their commitment to Christ up a notch. But we gained good people in their place that wanted to serve God and be involved. Some of those same people who told me that they voted against me being the Pastor said they regretted doing it once they got to know my ministry. During that time we painted and repaired the building and replaced the landscaping. It looked great.
I knew I needed help so I asked my long time friend John DiGiorgio to come and help me. He was helping me in the preaching and taught the adult Sunday school class. I would be in my office and I would hear many times the entire class worshiping the Lord. They would come out visibly affected and would bring a wonderful spirit of worship into that place. I was glad he was there.
John was filling in for me one Sunday preaching with bad sciatica. He came with a cane and was in a great deal of pain. As he began to preach the pain left and he could move easily. He said once he was done the pain returned and he walked out with the cane. That was the way things happened and I cannot explain it.
A woman was being abused by her husband. She was a new believer. He came towards her and she said, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.” She said her husband’s body went limp and he lost all his strength. God restored that marriage not long after that.
The best thing that happened in the short time we were there was when we hosted Easter services. Todd and Kirstie visited us on our Good Friday service. Bill and Charlotte, members of our church, had been witnessing to them. At that point Kirstie did not even believe in the deity of Christ. That night we had people speak on the seven sayings from the cross and write on papers something they were surrendering to the Lord and then nail them to a wooden cross. It was at that moment I believe she and Todd came to faith. Todd had been around church but this was the first time he ever made a real confession of faith. They hung out with everyone for the weekend and we all shared Easter dinner-God brought us all together. I miss those times.
Not long after my brother Mike visited and preached and people including Todd and Kirstie were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Todd was impressed with the drum playing. He learned to play drums and became involved in worship ministry after we left. In fact, he stayed at the church they said they said they were going to close. Kirstie was deeply impressed by the worship time with my sister in law Kim. She felt impressed that she should become involved in worship ministry. The only problem was Kirstie suffered for many years with acid-reflux disease. She was a trained singer until this affliction came upon her and she was slowly losing her ability to speak. God miraculously healed her. Both of them are serving the Lord to this day and even served as successful youth pastors for a time.
But pastoring there would not last long for us. During that time I reached out to my presbyters and elders and they did not want anything to do with the situation or did not know how to advise me. I wrote letters to the District and begged for their help and counsel. They did nothing except for arranging a clandestine meeting with a Pastor five miles up the road organizing the sale of our property. Despite all we did it went ignored. We did all we could. The church was starting to grow. We even rented the church on Saturdays to a group three times the size of our church to make up for the deficit in the mortgage.
The superintendent at that time came and met with me and said they would have to sell the property. He was actually taken back when I said, “You can do what you want with this property, it is the people I care about.” I asked them to place the church in a storefront, or even let us pay for the rental of a hall but they refused. Finally, the District Secretary came and announced that they were “closing down” the church. The people cried a lot. I was heartbroken. It was over. By a miracle we got the down payment for our home back. But after this, I no longer saw my denominational leaders as men who cared for souls, or spiritual fathers who cared for me as a son in the faith, but more like publicans of a religious machine that cared only for buildings, real estate and tithe payers. I went home and licked my wounds for a while, but God had a different plan for me.
But for love of those people, I would have done it all again.
©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due