April 15, 2021
At 9:08 Sunday morning I boarded my car for a drive to the Union Grove Church just east of Aurora Missouri. It was a brisk sunny day, the kind where you bring a jacket, you don’t really expect to use it but you bring it anyway cause you are old and you don’t want to be cold. A teenager would wear a colored t-shirt and shorts and cheerfully shiver while talking to friends. A tall 50 year old fat man would be in baggy workout shorts and a white undershirt and still sweating. I was in my new fancy pocketed jeans, a thin gray dressy sweater with a just in case jacket I threw in the seat beside me.
Traffic was busy as even in Covid days the multitudes go to church in Springfield Missouri. It only took me 10 minutes to get out of the city and view the countryside rolling past my window as I traveled west on Interstate 44. Five more minutes and I was exiting the highway and leaving the bustle behind as my white Buick dove into the countryside for my hour long ETA.
It is like traveling back in time when you drive deep into Missouri’s country roads. In the beginning you see houses every few acres. Small older farm homes surrounded by larger new homes with brick fronts and long asphalt driveways. The further you go it reverses as the homes begin to spread further apart with fewer big new houses till extravagance becomes a rarity and is replaced by thrift and frugality. Shiny horse barns give way to short and shabby hay barns and the majestic steeds give way to the four-legged mooing cash crop, brown and black grazing in fields or standing in muddy feedlots.
I see the air fresher and inhale the beauty of the rolling hills and pastures as I navigate sharp turns on narrow unpainted roads. This gorgeous backdrop painted by a majestic God and lightly brushed by the efforts of common man coveted the attention owed the tar covered gravel. Aged timbers stand alone like eagles on the low hills and grazing plains while short bushy trees hide in wire fence and taller woods crowd the banks of creeks and ravines. It seemed all else were where they were going as I found no competition on the narrow blacktop.
I would yet be driving had she not announced, “Your destination is on the right”. I entered the grass & gravel lot to the silent greeting of less than a dozen cars & trucks. The building was as humble as the cave of its master’s birth. Built as a barn in the late eighteen hundreds it was born again in 1903 as the Union Grove Church. I walked over earth that had felt the feet of horse drawn wagons, Model-Ts and now me as I strolled towards the porchless door.
Stepping in a short husky man with a ruddy complexion and smiling face greeted me casually and warmly as if I was no surprise. It was one large room with higher than expected ceilings that had once protected hay and sheltered working animals. The walls were adorned with Christian markings, crosses and emblems, many handmade. A small American flag pinned to a wall saluted me.
Plaques and signs with scriptures & the names of God spoke from the walls. A short stage the length of the wall supported a piano and guitar stand on one side and an overhead projector and screen on the other. A wooden pulpit stood between. The room was centered by a comely cutout that had once held a baptistry but was now the home to a shiny blue drum set glittering proudly amongst the rustic decor. A large wooden cross draped in purple cloth centered the space on the wall above the metallic barrel. To the side of the room was an 8-foot entry to the added-on Kitchen that was hidden by curtains.
I expected to find old wooden pews but instead the room was set in long white folding tables surrounded by modern thick padded stackable chairs, oversized and quite comfortable. About 30 faithful were fellowshipping two to three at a time throughout the room. A few just sat alone peacefully waiting for the service to begin.
I wasn’t rushed like fresh meat to the party but casually greeted by all who came near. I had never walked into this door before, yet everyone treated me like they were used to seeing me. It was like I was already a part of the group and they were expecting me, perhaps they were. The tattered & worn bibles they carried positioned the maturity of the souls & bodies of the bearers.
At time to begin the pastor announced that the guest speaker was delayed by an hour, to my surprise not a groan was uttered. Everyone just continued to feast on fellowship welcoming the lag.
In about 20 minutes one of the guest speakers arrived so the meeting was called to worship by a country guitar. The strong clear voices of the song leader & strummer guided us through the music that was displayed on handwritten transparencies projected to the screen. We sang Christian lyrics to the Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire”.
The first guest speaker was introduced and just prior to his conclusion another orator arrived to receive the microphone and carry on the service as if the timing had been carefully planned. The music was warming and comforting to the soul. The prophetic messages fed as well as any I had heard on TV.
The whole service was done just a little past noon when the somewhat rotund pastor, a cheerfully unpretentious servant announced lunch was ready. Everyone was invited (lovingly ordered) to stay and eat. Naturally in this modest body of believers, guests were pushed to the front of the line.
There was enough food for a crowd 3 times the size and we were all encouraged to take to-go boxes. Even though I hadn’t contributed anything to the meal but an appetite I still succumbed to the generosity and found myself with a box of fried chicken and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. I would normally have been too proud to receive such a gift, but humility was so thick in this house of worship that It just felt right.
As my car rolled down the driveway homeward bound, I pondered how a barn over 120 years old could stand so boldly and firm having faced all the torment that man and nature could throw at it for more than a century. It gave me envy for a heart enough pure to open my eyes to the host of heavenly beings that undoubtedly embraced the Union Grove Church just east of Aurora Missouri.