The First Pastor in My Margin

We both felt a bit hesitant that morning, and we knew the feeling was mutual without having to say it aloud.  The decision had been made, however, and we weren’t going to back out now.  We owed this to our daughter.  We owed this to ourselves.  We owed this to God.  We had been putting this off for far too long.  We had already been over it and made up our minds.

We were going to church, and that was final.

In marital solidarity, we pressed on with our preparations to leave.  Ashley labored over his choice of tie while I fussed and tugged at actual hosiery.  I am not a hosiery and skirts kind of woman, but this was important, so I figured I could just suck it up and do my best.  Mr. Nix and I are both from the school of thought that says it is better to err on the side of too formal, and the last time we had been regular churchgoers, it was scandalous to show up in God’s house wearing jeans.

It would be a starched collar for him and a skirt with pantyhose for me.

Our daughter came out of her room, Bible in hand, practically skipping.  She was dressed smartly and wearing a smile on her face, but her long hair was in its usual state of unwashed disarray with a shocking nest of tangles in the back.  We would fight that battle later, but I didn’t want to make our first attempt at finding a church unpleasant.  “Put it up in a ponytail, please,” I said, and then the three of us piled into the car.

We pulled into the parking lot of Christ the King Lutheran Church about 15 minutes early.  Lutheran because that was the sect we had agreed upon and Christ the King because it was the closest one to our house.  It appeared to be just the right size. It was not a tiny church, but there was nothing smacking of “mega” anywhere in sight, either.  Big enough to hide.  Small enough to be found.

My nerves came down a notch.

“Well, I’ve seen two people go in,” Ashley said, “and they were both wearing business casual, so I think we’re alright.” We sat there for a few minutes to watch and avoid walking in too early.  In those minutes, we were able to ascertain that we weren’t walking into a beach shorts and flip-flops sort of Jesus Rock concert (hey, if that’s how you worship, then God bless and amen, but that just ain’t our bag).

Part of me was disappointed because, in the absence of any reason not to go in, it was time to get out of the car.  Tinkle or get off the toilet, so to speak.  And of course all of this persnickety dissection of a church we’d never been to sounds callous and calculating and entitled and ungodly, but that’s how nervous newcomers choose a new church.  And besides, do you want a Christian blogger who pretends to be righteous all the time, or do you want one who’s gonna confess what really happened?

We walked in with fear and trepidation, but the greeters were friendly, the pews were comfortable, and the sanctuary was busy without being crowded.  The congregation was a mix of ages.  All signs pointed to perfect.  The worship leader came out and sang three modern Christian songs, which the congregants clapped and sang along with enthusiastically.  We didn’t know any of the music, and the drum set was a bit much for my conditioned-by-Roman Catholicism sensibilities, but it wasn’t enough to send me screaming from the building.

Next, a mild-mannered and bearded man about my age came up to give the announcements followed by the dreaded invitation to start greeting the people around us.  My blood pressure went up a few ticks during this part, but I was almost immediately set at ease by the calm and open faces of everyone around us.  No crowds descended upon us and we didn’t see anybody over the age of 10 staring at the “new people,” but everyone in our vicinity shook our hands and smiled warmly.  Some asked our names, but no one pressed further, yet.

It was then that we got our first glimpse of Pastor Kenneth Davis.

He is a tall, lean black man with chiseled patrician features and Caribbean heritage.   His wire-rimmed glasses and quiet, authoritative countenance immediately reminded me of Father Ward from my childhood church in Missouri.  The two men couldn’t look more different from one another, but they were so much the same that my breath caught.

Pastor Ken has skin the color of dates or dark roasted coffee beans and his head is bald and shiny.  Father Ward was as pale as linen or ivory and his head was covered with red-blonde hair.  Pastor Ken wears casually preppy slacks and button-up shirts.  Father Ward wore a black, unadorned cassock.  But still.  The spectacles are the same.  The physical authority is the same.  The command over a room is the same.  As soon as Pastor Ken walked up to the lectern, I was a teenager again at Queen of the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church.  I felt my posture correct itself, and I sat in the pew like a child waiting to be scolded.

But then Pastor Kenneth looked directly at me and smiled.  I came back to my middle-aged self and fell into the moment.  For the next 45 minutes, there was literally nowhere else on earth I wanted to be.  It was magic.

Pastor Ken delivered a sermon from a series on fruits of the Spirit from Galatians that morning.  The fruit that day was peace, and he approached it from the perspective of worry.  He spoke about the sinful traps of unbelief in anxiety and despondence.  He was straightforward, no-nonsense, and very clear.  I believe firmly that the Holy Spirit drew our family that day to hear that particular message from that particular man at that particular time.

“At just the right time I heard you.  On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
– 2 Corinthians, 6:2a, NLT

I have a long-diagnosed case of generalized anxiety.  I have always been this way, and I have a lifetime of experience in making an art form out of obsession and worry.  I also have a lifetime of experience with playing the Doubting Thomas.  God picked that sermon and that man and that church for that morning and he shoved our little family, silently kicking and screaming, through the doors.

An hour and a half after we had pulled into the parking lot, we walked back out to the car to go home.  “That was really good,” Ashley said.  “Yeah,” Lizzie said, “I liked it.”  “He really got me where I live,” I said.

And that is how it began.

Less than two months later, Pastor Kenneth and his family moved away.  We never really even got to know him, but we were sad when he left and felt a bit adrift for a few weeks.  He was our first draw to Christ the King church, but grace doesn’t reside in just one man.  Our congregation and our senior pastor have kept us firmly planted.

We are a military family, so we will not be able to stay here with this congregation forever. For a few years, however, we get to belong and experience worship with this body.  After 14 years of sporadic “visit and quit” church attendance over four continents and as many U.S. states, we have finally found our base for corporate worship.  It has made a world of difference, and unless you’ve gone through a period of drought like that, you might not understand how big and important it really was for us.

I took my first baby steps into personal bible study the same month we found our church.  I had never read the Bible with anything like a regular discipline, but in December of 2016, I wrote a note about Pastor Ken in the margin of my Bible, and it was the start of something really big.

“It’s not important who does the planting or the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7, NLT

Pastor Kenneth planted a seed in our family, and God has made that thing grow like crazy.  Pastor Ken didn’t know us and we didn’t know him, but he had a huge impact on our faith lives, and he was at the center of one of the very first conversations I had with God in the margins of my Bible.

I write a lot of notes in the margins of my Bible, now.  It’s a form of prayer for me, and I have been saying to myself that I met God there, in the margins of this book.  What followed has been the development of new passions, new habits, and a peace that comes from deeper and closer recognition of God than anything I ever even got close to before.

I am not a new Christian, but I am new to being truly faithful.  I am new to corporate worship, and I am new to the devoted study of Scripture.  I needed a place to let that spill over and be shared.  So this is it.  This is my “cup runneth over” spot.  If you stay, you’re gonna want to get out your Bible and a pen.  We’re gonna do a lot of talking to God together in those margins.

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