"...I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (from Matthew 16:18)
I had a very interesting and pleasant memory this week that I want to share with you. This goes back to my days of pastoring the small and struggling church which was known as First Assembly of God of Framingham. I pastored that church for over twenty years. During that time, the church owned a couple of different properties and met in several rental facilities, as well. The bulk of my pastorate, however, was at the former United Auto Workers union hall located at 32 South Street (behind the Chicken Bone Saloon's property). The church bought that property in 1994. That would be a story in itself, but I want to stick to the subject at hand: The "real church" is not a building. The "real church" is the people; the Body of Christ. First AG Framingham was little and it struggled, but there were a number of people whose lives were touched and blessed and changed through the ministries of that little church. My memory was about a woman that I will call, "Julia Carroll", which is not her real name.
Julia Carroll and her young grandson attended our church for a year or two during the early 1990s when our church met at Walsh Middle School. She'd been a member at a respectable and theologically liberal Protestant church in Framingham for years. Then she'd "gotten saved" and attended a medium-sized "charismatic" church. Julia was attracted to our little church because some people she knew were attending and had invited her to visit. She was a character and her little grandson was a handful. Julia was someone I'd call "eccentric". (Some of you know that I've been known to call myself "eccentric", too!) At times she was loud and opinionated and made some very controversial statements. Yet, Julia had a great sense of humor and was likable. After a period at our church, Julia sort of moved on. She went back to the respectful liberal Protestant church because it had services and programs that were beneficial to both she and her grandson, and because she had a history there. However, once in a great while when we were having a special speaker or a special service, Julia would surprise me by showing up at our church.
I don't know exactly when Julia's last visit to First Assembly of God of Framingham took place. I'm guessing it was around 2006 or 2007. She walked in on a Sunday morning to a very plain and ordinary service. I hadn't seen her in at least five years, so her visit was a great surprise. Julia seemed to particularly enjoy everything about the service: the music, the sermon, the people... really everything! Several minutes after the service had ended, Julia came right up to me and happily gave me a word from her heart. This is what she said:
"I know this is a small church, and I think it will always be small. However, it serves a very important purpose. Today, I needed to meet with God and be refreshed. I came here, and that has happened! I want you to know I think this church will always be there," she said, "it will be a place where people can come to when they are hurting and just need to be in the presence of God and receive from Him."
I don't think I ever saw Julia Carroll after that. If she's still alive, she's got to be eighty, and maybe older. I thought a lot about her words. I didn't like her pronouncement that our church would "always be small", but I felt quite honored that she thought of little First Assembly of God of Framingham as a place where a hungry soul could truly meet God.
Many of you know that I went through several years of great despondency and confusion following the March 2010 closing of that church. At times, I thought of Julia Carroll's words. It seemed that they were unfulfilled and even wrong. But that's not the end of the story.
A couple of years after First Assembly of God of Framingham was closed up, the Assemblies of God opened a new church in Framingham called: Meeting Place Church. In one sense, it's new, but in another, it carries on where First Assembly of God of Framingham left off. It's not usually considered proper for a former pastor to attend the church where he previously pastored. [An exception would be a retired pastor who becomes "Pastor Emeritus".] I had wanted to visit Meeting Place Church sometime, but I hadn't wanted to bother the pastor or the church or cause any sort of problem. On the very first Sunday of 2015, I was staying at my grown children's apartment in Framingham and I decided to walk over to Meeting Place Church for their service. [Well, I learned they don't call their services "services", they call them "meetings"!] I was delighted with what I found that day! It was a small group of maybe thirty people, most of whom were dressed pretty casually. The meeting room was pleasant, warm, and had a definite "welcoming" feeling to it. The music was not a "big production" but there was good, sincere worship. The sermon was practical and "down to earth". At Meeting Place Church I encountered a place that was small, and where the presence of God was. I encountered a place where I could meet with God and be refreshed. Does this sound familiar?
Yes, I thought about this today. Julia Carroll's words have proven to be absolutely true, accurate, and even prophetic. The United States Marines have that motto: "Semper Fidelis" or "Always Faithful". Well, perhaps the motto of Meeting Place Church should be, "Semper Ibi" which is Latin for "Always There"! I'm pleased to share my pleasant memory with you. If you live in the Framingham, Massachusetts area, I encourage you to visit Meeting Place Church sometime soon. Their Sunday worship meeting is at 10:00 a.m. They're located at 63 Fountain Street which is in a professional and industrial complex on Farm Pond and very close to downtown Framingham and Route 135. The church's entrance is on the Farm Pond side. There's plenty of parking.
I am greatful that God is "Always Faithful" and that His Church is "Always There"!