Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reflections on My First Experiences with God's Grace

I cannot think of a better time than New Year’s Day to reflect back upon my own personal experience with the grace of God. The “Making Disciples” Chart reflects in many ways the experiences that I have had and the goals that still stand before me in my striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. None of us has a “perfect” experience in any aspect of our development as disciples. If your experience is like mine, discipleship began in a particular family of God. My family is called the L. O. Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (now simply called “Dawson”).

I do not have any recollections of experiences in church prior to my family’s move to Birmingham following World War II. When I was born in 1943, my father (who was almost 34 years old at the time) was on the verge of deploying with the Army Engineering Corps to the Pacific Theater. My first recollection of him was when he returned home after the war ended. My mother and I met him at the train station in Birmingham. Up until that time, I was the only “man” I knew about in my mother’s life; but suddenly, here was another man hugging and kissing her—and in public! After his release from the service, Dad returned to his job with US Steel in Birmingham, but we lived with my Grandmother in Childersburg. Dad drove every day to the Fairfield Plant in Birmingham (it would probably be an hour's drive today under optimal conditions); so even though Dad was “around,” I rarely saw him. To complicate things and to facilitate a quicker move to Birmingham, Dad reached an agreement with my Uncle Cecil in Birmingham to help him build a garage apartment behind my uncle’s house. What free time my Dad had was consumed by that project. Needless to say, I did not see much of my father until after we actually moved into the garage apartment in the Homewood section of Birmingham.

While Dad was overseas, my mother and I lived in several locations: Childersburg, Talladega, and Sylacauga. I am sure we must have attended churches in Childersburg and Sylacauga during that time. My mother’s family was active at First Baptist Church in Childersburg. My aunt was church treasurer there from the 1920s (I don’t know exactly when she “retired,” but I suspect she served in that capacity for at least 60 years). Mom and Dad had been married in that church, and I am sure we attended there. Much of the time while my Dad was away, however, we lived with my Aunt Irma and Uncle Thurman Holt. They had a daughter, Margaret, who is about 4-1/2 months younger than I am. During the first three years of my life, Margaret was like a sister to me. Thurman was a deacon at First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, so I am sure we must have attended that church as well.

My first memory of church may seem a strange one. My family and I had attended a worship service at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church. As we were leaving after the service, the pastor of the church, “Brother Edwards” (as I recall), was standing at the door. I’m not sure what he said or what he did, but I have a distinct remembrance of the attention he focused on me and the welcome he made me feel at that church. That initial welcome to the family of faith had a positive impact upon our family. Mom and Dad joined the church; and Dad, who had grown up in the Presbyterian Church, was baptized by immersion at a nearby Presbyterian Church so that he could become a member of Dawson. This church became the “family of God” for me for almost 20 years and continued to shape me beyond the days of my membership. There I became one of God’s “chosen” as a part of a separate and distinct people serving God in the world.

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