The first time I ever had a sense of what real worship could be was in a large Four-Square Church in Eugene, Oregon, named Faith Center. I was 20 years old, and had been a Christian for 6 years. Previously, I'd gone to an Evangelical Free Church, a few times, and of course, the staid old Methodist church I'd grown up in. But Faith Center was something new. People raised their hands there. Acted like they loved Jesus. Really, really loved Him. I couldn't quite believe it. And the songs were rhythmic and contemporary (my kids are going to laugh at these songs, because they're so ancient now, but in those days, they were fresh and new and no one had ever heard them before). I remember the first time we sang the songs, "Majesty," "Emmanuel," "As the Deer;" and the first time I raised my voice to sing, "Jesus, Name above all Names," which comes straight out of Philippians 2, it broke my heart.
At the EV Free Church I'd heard some great Biblical teaching, to tell the truth, by Jim Wilson who is still in the Palouse, strong and true and certain. We just got a pamphlet from his ministries the other day, inviting us to come for a weekend seminar, so I know the truth is still being spoken, straight from his mouth, from the Word, 30 years later. I'm grateful for that; and for what I learned from him, from his steady, Biblical teaching.
But in Eugene, at Faith Center, I encountered something else, someone new, a man named Roy Hicks, Jr, who I gladly sat under three times a week, for four years. I just couldn't get enough. He was passionate, a straight-shooter, with his jutted jaw and firm voice, and he told us what God had actually spoken in His Word, never what we wanted to hear. For a college student to show up Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights as well--well, there was something going on in that place. I think--no, I know--it was the Holy Spirit working in me, molding me. I remember walking in with a couple of friends one night in particular, chatting with our neighbors as usual--we were always a very chatty bunch in that big cavernous barn of a church--then settling down when Roy walked down the aisle, picked up the mike and said, "Go home. Spend time with the Lord by yourself tonight. Be faithful in private." We stood there a few moments, stunned. Then there came his voice from the back of the place, "I mean it--go home and be quiet with Him tonight." Then the lights went off. No one spoke and we went home. I don't know what other people did, but I felt convicted. I had been allowing church to take the place of my own devotions. I went home and opened the Word, then fell on my knees before my God.
I got baptized one Sunday night in the big tank up behind the piano. The song playing at the time was, "For those tears I died." A friend kindly wrote it down so I'd always know. I wouldn't remember otherwise. The moment I remember well, the song is a blur. It's an odd thing that I got baptized there. I'd been baptized as a child in the Methodist Church, so there was really no need...but there was for me. You see, when I was baptized as a child, not a single person involved was a Christian--not my parents, not the minister (I'm pretty sure), not me. So in my college-student-brain, it hadn't counted, and I desperately wanted it to count. So I was baptized in the first church that really counted in my life. From here, from the vantage point of 56 years, I might not counsel that decision. But I've never been sorry for that night, for the shock of the water as I was pushed under, dead to sin, and the rush of it as I was pulled back out, alive to new life, and the hug from the baptizing elder, welcoming me in. And the sense I had that it was done--finally--that I was in, as I'd wanted to be, In Christ.
I was at Faith Center when Keith Green made his first legendary concert tour north and played for a packed house right in our church with his simple band. He wasn't well known then, his music hadn't been heard yet, but he sat down at the piano and began to pound the keys, and speak to us between the songs and with the music and it was a Holy moment. Yes, he shocked us that day--in the way that the Holy Spirit can shock a room. The Holy Spirit was clearly there, in Keith's music, in his strong prophetic words for the nation. We might not have known those songs, but we stood and clapped--for God Himself--and barely let him leave the place. Later that year, about a dozen of my friends made a pilgrimage over spring break down to LA to sit in Keith Green's small upper room and listen to him sing and speak for the week. And a year or so later, when the Greens and band returned to Eugene, I was part of the throng that waited for hours to get into MacArthur Court at the University of Oregon to hear him play to a sold-out crowd. A Christian musician playing in Eugene, Oregon to a sold-out crowd? It was magical! No, it was the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. How many of us who were at that concert that night ended up on the mission field as a result of his death? I don't know, but I was definitely one of them (but that's for another day).
Faith Center, and Eugene. There have been moments in my life that I've thought of the Eugene years as a strange bend in my life that I could easily have snipped off. Like a four-year pinch in a hose, if you removed it, the hose would run smoothly. There was one giant pinch, and if I'd missed it, I'd have a smooth running past, and none would be the wiser. And I could have missed all that pain, all that awful, awful five years of pain...But I am who I am for that pain. I have great friendships that have lasted 30 years, have birthed others friendships. And I was changed by Faith Center. It was the first church I really loved, first time I understood what we're made for --this worship stuff. No matter what it looks like, no matter what the music is, what the preaching, teaching is. Faith Center was instrumental in teaching me that.
Years later--when I was married, and living far from there--I heard that Roy had died in a plane crash. I didn't know him personally--Faith Center was a very large church, and I was merely a college student. And I hadn't even sat under his teaching in a dozen years, but I felt sad. It was a sad day for this world, and a glad day for heaven, I think. "Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."
As I've mentioned before, I'm wondering a lot about church right now. I've changed a lot since my Eugene days, of course. That church probably wouldn't suit the 56-year-old Carolyn as it did the 20-year-old one. But it helps to write about it. To remember, to consider what God wants, what is important. After all, it's not what I need in a church that matters, not how a church can meet my needs, but how God can be praised. Eugene Peterson tells us to just plop down next to your neighbor and worship. That's the point. They aren't going to look and act and be like me, or even nice probably. But that's not the point. The point is to enter into His presence, and help those next to me, no matter who they are, to do the same. Come along with me...I learned that in Eugene.
Yes, learning to worship, to crave worship--that's what I learned.
And it has stuck with me so that I can worship in season and out.
(This is an edited post from May 2006)