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Recent visit to church revives childhood memories

took time this past Sunday to visit a church that is very much a part of my development as a Christian. That church is Sardis Baptist located in LaGrange. As a child, my parents ensured that each time the doors of the church were open for service, my siblings and I would have guaranteed seating. At the time, we hated living next door to the church. Being young, we prayed to God for a different kind of deliverance. We wanted a new house that was not close to a church.

I truly enjoyed the services under the Rev. Walter Dowell. The church he now pastors is more than 100 years old. The order of service, however, has remained the same. The choir and the deacon’s warm parishioners up for the pastor’s sermon. During service, I reflected on the fact that it was at this church that I also developed a passion for reading and journalism. I could experience places vicariously while reading that were not limited to me because of my socioeconomic circumstances.

The minister during my youth was quite charismatic. He truly put the fear of the Lord into the parishioners, especially the children.

He was so successful that my friends and I believed that if we defaced the sacred property of the church, that we would be placed on a fast track to hell.

Each Sunday before church, he would visit every home in the community.

His message to each household was simple — God blessed you with six days of the week, give him Sunday. As I have gotten older, the greater that minister has become in my memories of years past. He did not have a high school education, but he was what we needed then to deliver God’s message each Sunday that tomorrow would be a better day.

The Rev. Dowell is the third minister of Sardis Baptist Church. He too is charismatic. I believe that under his leadership the church will become an even greater asset to the community. This is at a time when it appears as if fewer people are actually attending church.

A cursory look at churches today reveals that Americans have not necessarily lost their faith-just their interest in being in a church on Sundays. The fact of the matter, however, is that statistics from the reputable, Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development, tell us that nearly 50 percent of Americans have no church home.

In the 1980s, membership in the church had dropped almost 10 percent. Then, in the 1990s, it worsened by another 12 percent drop — some denominations reporting a 40 percent drop in their membership.

And now, over halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, we are seeing the figures drop even more.

Sardis was not crowded this past Sunday, but the spirit of the Lord was quite present as a guest pastor delivered a powerful message about how God delivered him from drug addiction. For a moment, I was just a child again visiting the church next door.