I came to understand what Christ did for me when I was 12 years old and I watched the movie Jesus of Nazareth. I understood then that Jesus died for my sins. But it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I accepted Christ as my savior.
I have been coming to this church since I was born. I was baptized here. I was married here. All of my children were baptized here. Except when I was in college and living in Cleveland, I have attended this church only. I am a Methodist. When I was a kid, I came to Sunday school here. I sat in the 3rd row back on my left with my mom, Donna Ballard, my Grama, Grace Sayles, my Boompa, Mel Sayles, my dad, Dave Ballard who sang in the choir, and my siblings. My Uncle, Danny Ballard, also sang tenor in the choir. I would lay down on my mom’s lap and look at that big stained glass dome while my mom stroked my hair. I would look at the stained glass image of Jesus with the lamb and imagine that He was holding me like that.
I grew up hearing this choir sing The Hallelujah Chorus, and learned to sing hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” with the rest of the congregation. I was confirmed in this church and attended Sunday school. I sang in the children’s choir. One time, Mrs. Laycock, who was the children’s choir director asked if I would like to sing a song for everyone at practice, I did, and I sang “Comet, it makes your teeth so green….”.
This space is a big part of the reason I am who I am today. Just as this space is a big part of the way my children are who they are today. But it’s not really this space, the building, or the stained glass images, or the Sunday school classrooms, or the church pews, or the baptismal that has made me or my family who we are today, it is the people who attend. The church.
You have helped me through some of the most difficult years of my life. The first time being, when my Boompa died when I was 12. I remember your kindness then. And again when I was an awkward teenager and you told me I was pretty and that someday some boy would be so lucky to have me. And again when I went off to college and you supported me with prayers, financial support, and gifts. And again when my Granma died and you told me how much Granma meant to you and how much I meant to my Granma. And when I got married to Michael and you taught me about Agape Love and you welcomed my husband and me into marriage here. My dad walked me down that aisle and gave me away with a kiss. And when I had Abigail and you prayed for me when she was premature and you sent me cards and visited us in the NICU. Then again with every birth, you came to my home, and fixed us supper and sat with me when I was on bed rest so that they wouldn’t be born too early. You held those babies, and rocked them, you read to them, you brought them gifts. You loved us.
You became my friend as we raised our kids together. You held them in the nursery, taught them in Sunday school, Logos, and Youth Group. You cooked food for them, and you played with them, and you showed them the love of Jesus with each smile and hug. You helped them to make me little planters for mother’s day. You went with them to Winter Jam, Alive, Youth Missions Trips, Yak, and Point Fest. You financially, prayerfully, and personally supported them to attend CCYM trips, and DYC events. You wrote letters of recommendation for jobs for them. You welcomed us into The United Methodists Women and Men’s group and the Bible studies. You supported us when my dad died suddenly and sent my mom, my siblings, and I cards and loved us through the grief. You sang to me, “It is Well with my Soul” while I cried sitting in the balcony the first Sunday after he died.
You prayed and supported my husband and I when he had quadruple bypass surgery. You came to visit us at the Cleveland Clinic while he was in ICU. You went with him to his cardiac rehab and encouraged him. You’ve invited us to your graduation, retirement, birthday, and wedding parties. You came to our graduation parties and helped me with getting ready for them. You have helped us through the ups and downs of marriage and taught us that love is a choice, not always a feeling.
You were here for us when my mom died two years ago, giving hugs, praying, and reminding us all how special she was. You were here when my in-laws died, you came to their memorial service and my mom and dad’s memorial service in this church and supported us with your love. You called me to meet for tea or to go for a walk. You understand when I am busy with kid stuff and you forgive me when I am not as gracious, kind, or sympathetic as I could be. You prayed over Simon when he went into the Coastguard and sent him letters.
From 1960 and throughout today and the days ahead, you have been my church. You have shown me God’s love in countless ways and on countless occasions. Yes, I am blessed by this building and the stained glass, and the comfy pews, and the abundant parking, and the nice class rooms, the wonderful music and acoustics. But you have been the real blessings, because you taught me all about unconditional love. I look forward to sharing the rest of the seasons of my life with you. They say it takes a village to raise a family. Thank you for being my village.