I sat stock-still in the ornate Presbyterian sanctuary with my best friend Lisa. I gawked at the palm branch she shoved in my hand. “You’re supposed to wave it,” she whispered.
I’d spent my entire ten years of life in church, but never once waved a palm branch. I raised it high, following along and mentally piecing together the familiar Palm Sunday story. I turned my gaze from palm branches to stained glass windows to shiny organ pipes suspended above the platform. So this is the way everyone else does church, I mused.
I’m a preacher’s kid and, as a child, I knew that fact alone made me strange. Adding to the oddity, my dad is a bivocational preacher. His paying gig is electrical engineering but the Lord also called him to pastor country churches.
Dad didn’t just pastor one congregation; he pastored four. He’s what the old-timers called a “circuit preacher.” Each Sunday of the month we traveled to a different church, many of them an hour or more away.
None of my school friends attended our churches, so the kids in our congregations were more acquaintances than friends. They were polite and friendly, but I didn’t have any day-to-day interaction with them.
The kids I did interact with, the neighborhood kids and my friends from school, knew we didn’t go to any church in town. After seeing the big beautiful church that Lisa attended, I was embarrassed to invite anyone to go to church with us. Many of our little churches were one-room buildings. We didn’t even have a piano, much less an organ. And most of them had outhouses. The shame of that was more than I could bear, especially as I entered my awkward teenage years.
“I just preach the word and love the people,” my dad would tell folks. And he did those things, but he did a whole lot more.
Besides the usual pastoral duties such preaching, visiting the sick, and “marrying and burying,” I watched my dad and mom do whatever needed to be done in our little churches. They replaced light fixtures, swept floors, washed windows, hauled brush, and brought meals. My parents modeled to their three daughters,
There is no place for stars in the church; only servants.
As isolated as I felt back then, God used those years sitting on simple wooden pews to shape me for ministry. I heard the Word proclaimed with boldness and clarity, and those King James verses still ring in my heart and spring to my lips. No cathedral pipe organ can compare to the voices of those precious saints, simple men and women who loved the Lord and loved us.
Those simple beginnings may have made me feel like a misfit in my little world, but they made me a perfect fit for His kingdom.
I’m honored to share my story with Michelle’s friends, and I’ve loved reading so many of your “misfit” experiences. Isn’t it amazing the way God accompanies each us on such unique paths to faith? Although Michelle and I have walked different journeys, I love that we have the same eternal destination!
Most days Susan can be found studying and preparing to teach a message from God’s word at her church, in her community, or for a retreat. She recently returned from a month-long trip to Israel where she worked with Palestinian children and gorged herself on hummus and shawarma. She’s active on social media and would love to connect through Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, susanstilwell.com.
Click here to purchase Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.