Sam said it was Saturday when we first heard the song. It was while we were playing chess; we both remember that. He also remembers that he beat me two games out of three during the weekend. But I researched that music detail and discovered that 88.7 FM out of Spindale, North Carolina features a show on Sunday morning called “Gospel Truth” which is, apparently, what we were hearing. Their online rundown listed, precisely at 8:38, the song, “I Found a Church Today” by The Gibson Brothers.
“I found a church today,” they sang. “you led me to its door. There was love about, it made my spirit soar.” (listen)
I had never heard of The Gibson Brothers, which is odd, given their stardom in the bluegrass world. I have spent 59 of my years living in the Bluegrass State, including six in Owensboro, which is home to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Of course, the Gibson’s have never heard of me, so I suppose we are even.
Sam and I listened to that song at least a half dozen times last Sunday, mostly as I drove him home to Charlotte. I once asked him, thinking to change to music he would prefer, “What do you want to hear?” That’s when he said, “I like that music.” Which is how we came to listen to a whole string of songs new to both of us. I call it bluegrass, but I suppose it falls also into categories like country, folk, mountain, and gospel.
Whatever its genre, it snapped the sound cords of my soul, and they are still vibrating. I don’t know what mixture of nostalgia and need, of loneliness and longing opened my heart to the message of the song. Maybe the news reports listing all the reasons people give who have quit going to church, and I don’t mean just the pandemic. Maybe the sad story of my own church in Georgia pushing out a pastor I loved and admired.
“We had worship there, and Jesus’ name was praised. I sang along, I found a church today.”
The plaintive sound, the splendid harmony, the personal witness to a simple encounter with a grace-filled God—all of this spoke to me. And when the chorus repeated these words—“And your love shone in through the windows wide”—it made me think of my first church, Hopewell, up in Ripley County, Indiana (1976-1981). It was a vibrant congregation gathered in a old wood plank sanctuary set out in the middle of corn fields and cow pastures.
It wasn’t all good. I was young and inexperienced, and together we exhibited all the vices of any community of people. Once I took a hand saw and climbed up the old maple tree in the church yard and started sawing—working out the frustration I felt about things long forgotten. A neighbor passed by, saw the strange sight of the preacher in a tree, retrieved his chain saw from the barn, and helped me finish. He never said a word or asked a question. He just helped me do what I shouldn’t be doing.
“And all the souls inside welcomed from their pew. You were in their eyes and in their voices, too. And my heart was full when it was time to pray; I came back to you, I found a church today.”
It got me to thinking, as I drove back from Charlotte, what kind of church I wanted, what kind of church I needed, what kind of church would stir in me something of what I felt as I listened, over and over, to the words of this simple song.
Not a large church, necessarily, and not a totally white church: I want to sit with people and sing with people and pray with people who represent the broad spectrum of God’s good creation, of the human family. Not a church segregated by age, where the youth are in one room and the kids in another. All together is the way I like it. Sam often read the Scripture in public worship when he came to visit in Georgia, and it was good—for him and for us.
Not a church fixated on doctrine or politics or winning any war, cultural or otherwise. But one full of kindness, and hospitality, and the warmth of friendship. I like the right hand of Christian fellowship—it is the first and last, the alpha and omega of Christian habits.
I sit in the pews these days, mostly retired from the pulpit work I did for more than 40 years. But still the sermon is important to me. I like a good sermon; it doesn’t have to be great. Good will do, and I’ve actually written a short piece of what makes a good sermon! I look for these nine things, but if the preacher will speak from the heart, tell us something about Jesus, and make an appeal for us to open our eyes to all that God is doing in the world and in our lives, I will be happy.
There are many of us looking for a church. Verse three speaks my mind and maybe yours: “I’ll come back next week and bring a friend along. He needs to hear your Word; he needs to sing your song. Keep a fire in me, don’t let me get away. It feels like home, I found a church today.”