My church celebrated it’s 50th birthday yesterday, and it got me thinking. Thinking about a junior high boy who first walked through those doors on Easter Sunday, 1980. It was a smallish church in a dorky little building in the middle of cornfields.  It was the second church my mother had dragged us to that morning. We were new in town, and we were looking for a church home. A smashed marraige had driven us out of Iowa, and now we were looking for warm faces and open arms – like refugees fleeing a war no one else had witnessed, bearing deep wounds no one else could see.

We settled on that place. And those people. And 36 years later, we’re still there. I’ve tried to leave – multiple times. I left for college. I left again to live in the city. I left again to see if I was a Presbyterian (nope) and again to see if I was a mega-churcher (nope again). My mother never left. 36 years in the same place, with the same people. It’s so countercultural it’s practically un-American. But there we are. Still to this day. Heck, I’m even an elder.


Well, the only thing I can say is that this smallish church in the middle of cornfields played a huge role in my life. I was a needy kid when I walked in the door, still bearing shrapnel from the explosion of my family in Iowa. Deep wounds left me walking with a metaphorical limp. But I found community in the tiny youth group. I found warmth in the faces of volunteer youth leaders who cared. I found lively conversations that helped me secure my faith in those crucial moments where a young man or women must either own or reject his inherited beliefs.

I made films with the other kids in the youth group. We showed them to the whole church. After my first year of college, a church friend, knowing my interest in filmmaking, mentioned an internship opportunity at a local video production company. That internship turned into my first job, as well as the laboratory for my early experiments in filmmaking and computer animation, effectively changing the course of my life.

What’s my point?

By the late 90s the cornfields around our little church had been replaced with subdivisions and shopping malls, Starbucks and Whole Foods. The building was expanded multiple times as the surrounding population grew larger and wealthier. But it wasn’t so during my formative years. There was no paid youth pastor or children’s pastor. No video screens or highly produced worship. The basement leaked. The building was odd. There was no youth budget. Everything was led by volunteers. There was no “show.” Nothing that would attract a crowd or impress a stranger.

So what changed my life? Well, God, in a nutshell. But that’s not the whole answer. God – through relationships. My peers in the youth group. The volunteer leaders, some of them barely older than we were. And the older folks in the church that encouraged us. Applauded our films when we showed them. Pointed us toward God, and knew us well enough to think of us when they heard about internships in our areas of interest.

As I look back, I realize that none of the things that actually changed my life at my church cost anything. They required no money. No resources. No fancy buildings, fancy equipment, fancy intentions. They simply required people showing up and being the body of Christ. Loving on a junior high boy with a limp.

It’s not about the show. It’s about you and me, and the amazing ability of God to show up when we gather together in love.

Happy birthday to my little church. I am helping to make you, because you helped make me.

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