About two weeks ago, I had the privilege and the opportunity to go back home. Home for me is Cleveland, Ohio. It was on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of Black Adventism in Cleveland.
What made it more special was the fact that my 2 sisters, my brother and all of our spouses came back as well-my siblings and I had not been back home at the same time in about 25 years.
My family moved from Cleveland to Huntsville, Alabama 42 years ago. I do not get back to Cleveland nearly as much as I would like and when I do get back, it is usually because someone passed away. In fact, it had been 6 or 7 years since I had been back to Cleveland for any reason other than a funeral.
Most of my relatives who once lived there have either moved away or passed away, so when we got together on Thursday evening with 2 of the few remaining members of my family who are still in Cleveland to look at the Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steeler game (yes, that game) and again on the next night for dinner, it reminded me again of the blessing of family and the need to be grateful for the fact that this particular family gathering had nothing to do with anyone being buried.
It was a wonderful weekend-a little sad because the years had taken their inevitable toll and so many of the people that we knew and who had poured into us were no longer with us. And my now senior citizen siblings and I will probably never all be together at home at the same time again.
As the 100th Anniversary celebration took place just prior to Thanksgiving, I began reflecting on how much I have to be thankful for and how much of that had to do with by whom I was raised and where I was raised. Ironically, while I am very, very thankful for that now, there were any number of times when I was growing up in that little house that was one block away from what is now Southeast Seventh-day Adventist Church (it was just an empty lot when I was growing up) and a block and a half away from the church school-Ramah Jr. Academy when I was anything but thankful.
My parents were very traditional Seventh-day Adventists who had this quaint notion that parents were supposed to be, well, parents, which meant that they did not seem to be bothered making decisions that were not popular with their children.
The problem with that was that while my parents did not seem to mind making decisions that were unpopular with their children-their children were sometimes very bothered by those decisions.
My very strong-willed parents-my father was especially strong willed-in fact, “strong-willed” is a weak description of my father who passed on his “strong-willedness” to his children, so that little home on 16801 Chateau was the occasional scene of some rather titanic struggles between children who wanted to do what they wanted to do and what our friends wanted us to do and parents who insisted on doing what they thought God wanted them to do. And-because our parents insisted on being parents-we always lost those battles.
I often was not thankful for that then. But I am thankful for that now. Thankful for parents who took me to Sabbath School every week-and since my father was a Sabbath School teacher and they had Sabbath School teachers meeting every week (I was hard-pressed to have it once a month in some of the places where I pastored), we arrived at church-not at 9:30 a.m. every Sabbath-but at 8:30 a.m.
And since we lived a half hour away from church, that meant we had to leave our house at 8:00 a.m. Which meant, 6 people (sometimes 8, when our grandmother and our cousin would stay with us) had to get ready by 8:00 a.m. in a house that had one bathroom.
Thankful for parents who put me in church school, who took me back to what was called MV then-every week-no matter how late we got back home from church (we had great preachers in my church in those days-but none of them were short preachers-so we almost never got home on Sabbath before 2:30 or so).
Parents who would take us to camp meeting as a vacation, pile us in a tent (or, in one dormitory room, when we moved “up” from staying in tents) and wake us up in time to tell us that we were going to Early Morning Prayer Meeting at 6:00 a.m. I wasn’t always thankful for that then. But I am thankful now.
My parents sent all 4 of us to church school; in fact, they moved one and a half blocks from the church school (then, when we went to college, they moved to Huntsville and bought a house 2 blocks away from Oakwood-in case you haven’t noticed by now-my parents were very big on church school).
The little church school to which they sent us wasn’t perfect-no school-public or private-ever is. While most of my church school teachers were good teachers, a few were pretty bad. I don’t know if I was always thankful for church school. But I am thankful now.
I know that I wasn’t always grateful for my church. As I said earlier, the services were long and to some degree-they had what I now know was somewhat of a Eurocentric flavor-you couldn’t clap in church (if you were at a concert in those days and you felt blessed by the music, you were only permitted to wave your program).
The choirs almost exclusively sang anthems-with the exception of what was called the Gospel Choir-which was, ironically, made up entirely of senior citizens-the Young Adult choir sang anthems, while the seniors sang gospel.
There was certainly an emphasis on “works” at that church-much more was said about what you did and did not do-instead of on Who you knew. As I said-it wasn’t a perfect church. And I certainly wasn’t always thankful for it. But I am thankful now.
Today, I am very thankful for what I wasn’t always thankful for once upon a time: For those imperfect parents, who sent me to an imperfect school and took me every Sabbath to an imperfect church. I am thankful for parents and Sabbath School teachers and church school teachers, who in their imperfect way, did the best they knew how to introduce me a perfect God.
And in their own imperfect way, they did a good enough job of introducing Him to my siblings and me that even though my parents and almost all of those people are gone now, all of my siblings, and all of our children and all of our children’s children, still worship and serve that same perfect God in that same imperfect denomination called the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
And I am very, very thankful for that.