It's a small church with deep roots in its community. One of the first questions asked was,
"Who are your people?"
It's a quaint reminder of how tight-knit communities used to be, that if they knew your people--your family--they knew you. It opens a door of fellowship with an invitation that is a felt yet unspoken, "You are one of us. We know you. "
If you've ever seen the movie The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, just change the accents to a Tennessee twang and the scene from a pub to a church parking lot to get a rough idea of this relational welcome. For the record, Hubs hasn't had to fist-fight anyone since taking this pastorate. Just didn't want that Quiet Man comparison to get out of hand!
Of course, knowing one's "people" could be a double-edged sword in some instances, but by and large it isn't meant with disrespect. It's merely an old-fashioned courtesy and, as my friend Cheryl (also a pastor's wife) put it, a way of figuring out what you might be like, whether your values might be similar to theirs.
It's trying to get at who you are without asking too many questions that might be perceived as being "nosy." For example, to this day, I'm known by some as "Preacher Roy's granddaughter." Because some loved Preacher Roy, they love me, too.
"Who are your people?" questions led to some unexpected results for my husband. He knew he had a relative buried in the church cemetery, but had no idea how deep his roots were in this particular area. As it turns out, he is related to quite a few of this little flock. They have blessed him with their love for their church and of its history. It has been a peek into the past, and into the hearts of people who deeply desire to share what has mattered to them with another generation. They have literally and figuratively given us a picture of those gone before.
Such as what the church looked like when his ancestors attended there.
Times of great blessings--a baptism in the late 1910s with over 50 people:
And a picture of his great-great-grandparents, including this man who was born in 1842 and a veteran of the Civil War.
My husband was stunned. He'd never seen this before. Our children are fascinated with this look at history and unfamiliar family faces. And we are more than a bit surprised that God called our family to a place so steeped with family history that we never, ever knew.
Truly, in many ways, these are our people.
My husband, though, was convinced these were our people before we ever knew of family connections, as interesting as all this history may be.
For there is a group of people with blood-ties to us that go much farther back than the 1800s. We are family to all those who belong to Christ; we love our brothers and sisters in this fellowship of saints.
Smaller churches with long histories and shared memories have a rich heritage and are indeed a treasure trove of experience and community that in this digital age can be overlooked by those of us who may view the past as something with little contribution to the now.
But the challenge of the smaller church is not to become so focused on its own particular history and past that it cannot fulfill a Great Commission ministry today and tomorrow. It is a privilege to be with a group of people who understand that and have a heart for reaching, as Brandon Heath says in his song The Harvester, "those who don't know or just don't know yet."
So who are our people?
In short, it is everyone we meet and can tell about Jesus. Those with whom we serve, those for whom we serve, and those who love Jesus as Savior and Lord.
These are our people.
Author's note: I'd like to thank the Irwin family, specifically Joyce, for these treasured pictures and stories behind them. Also, many thanks to Mrs. Crowder and Mrs. Satterfield who got this ball rolling! Blessings to you!