When I moved to Marion, Alabama to begin work at Judson College, one of the more interesting events was an invitation to preach at the Marion Presbyterian Church. Sam Colburn, an elder in the church, talked with me at a new faculty reception and asked if I’d be willing to help. I reminded him I was Baptist, and he said, “We’re all God’s children.”
Though Baptists call the office “interim pastor,” Presbyterians call it “stated supply.” And it was a happy experience for me over the next three and one-half years.
I must admit the more formal worship style was different. The pastor was expected to pray five or six different prayers, such as a “prayer of adoration,” a “prayer of confession” and a “prayer of pardon.” And the Apostles’ Creed was new to me, though it’s a wonderful summary of Christian doctrine.
Working with elders was new, too. In recent years numbers of Baptist churches have instituted eldership, but at the time, this wasn’t common. The Marion elders had a long history with the first-Tuesday-night-meeting. I was encouraged by their love for the people and commitment to ministry.
I remember getting into a little difficulty quite innocently. A Judson student wanted to get involved with the church, so I asked her to read scripture one Sunday. Afterwards I learned that women don’t do this in the PCA church. One of the elders said that since I asked her, she was “under my authority” and we were probably OK. Another time I asked attendees to “turn and shake hands with your neighbor” as good Baptists do. Only afterwards did I learn this wasn’t the Presbyterian way. Despite my learning curve, the congregants couldn’t have been more encouraging.
The church did bring in a “real Presbyterian” for communion and baptism since I wasn’t licensed in the PCA. The men who came to help us were great people.
After my time at Marion Presbyterian I was fortunate to be “unemployed” only one Sunday, then a local Baptist church took me on as a rehab project for the next 12 years!
I think God was preparing me for a new family experience. Our Baptist daughter married a Presbyterian who now serves as a deacon in his church. Our three grandsons have been baptized as Presbyterians, and the eldest was confirmed two years ago. It was a beautiful worship time when he took communion for the first time, flanked by his two grandfathers, the other a Presbyterian elder from Chattanooga.
John Oxenham’s hymn lyrics ring true: “In Christ there is no East or West / In Him no South or North / But one great fellowship of love / Throughout the whole wide earth.” – 30 –
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.