Archives for : September2014

The Other Church

Memories from my hometown in Northern Minnesota

Population 350, circa 1940s

By Sharon Sheppard, the Country Cousin



Since our family attended services every time the doors were open, it was lucky for us that the church was located just a hop, skip, and a jump from our front door.  The small stucco building was one of only two churches in the village.  We always referred to it as “our church,” not to be confused with the one across town which we called “the other church.”

Folks with more exotic faiths drove to neighboring towns.  The Catholics, for example, had to trek nine miles to Pine River every Sunday, and the Seventh Day Adventists drove eight miles in the opposite direction to Hackensack on Saturdays.

A knotted rope dangled from a hole in the ceiling of the squarish bell tower, and every Sunday morning at exactly ten o’clock some lucky person got to tug on the bell rope, sending out a clanging reminder to the rest of the town that if they weren’t already here or at the other church, they were either late or backslidden.

Belonging to a small congregation gave new meaning to the term “active member.”  My mother led the singing, taught Sunday school, and directed the “Sunshine Choir,” a popular weekly feature where all the children under age eight or so trotted up front to sing—unrehearsed—choruses like “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Deep and Wide,” complete with hand motions.  The littlest kids were adorable—lisping, nose-picking, off-key singing and all.

I accompanied them on the upright, having become church pianist at the age of 12, when we unfortunately got a new pastor whose wife didn’t know how to play the piano.  As an ear player, I hadn’t yet learned to read a note myself, but I knew all the hymns by heart, and beggars couldn’t be choosers, I guess.

My dad held a whole slew of positions all at the same time, including church treasurer and Sunday school superintendent, and he transported country kids to Sunday school.  He was also the unpaid custodian, so in addition to mowing the church lawn in summer and shoveling the walks in winter, Dad also kept the uninsulated church building warm—no small trick in northern Minnesota, especially when temperatures fell to 20 or 30 degrees below zero.  On the coldest weekends, he started stoking the wood furnace on Saturday, and sometimes slept beside it part of the night to make sure the fire didn’t go out.

Like a second home to us, the church was the center of our family’s life.  Our friends, social life, entertainment, and our guidelines for living—all revolved around what went on in that little stucco building with its creaking wooden floors and dark varnished pews.

The building wasn’t fancy, and neither were the people, but I met the Creator of the universe there, and you can’t beat that.  One night when I was around five years old, it dawned on me that I was a sinner.  A visiting revival preacher was preaching about heaven and hell, and it just about scared the life out of me.   I remember sitting on Daddy’s lap that Sunday night, crying because I knew I’d done some things that weren’t right.

My biggest childhood sins were sassing my mother and fighting with my brothers, and I regularly got into trouble for it.

As the sermons tugged at my heart, I made plenty of trips to the front of the church during altar calls to the strains of “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling…”  Each time I’d ask God to forgive my sins.  But then my stubbornness would get me into trouble again, and I was afraid I was headed for hell.

Then one day not long after my tenth birthday, I told God, “Please forgive me. I want to do right, but sometimes I don’t.  And Lord, I’m tired of always worrying about whether I’m gonna’ make it.  Help me to know that I’ll end up in heaven with you some day.”

And you know what?  God gave me a magical feeling of peace that has never left me.  I’m still stubborn sometimes, but because Jesus took the rap for me, hell doesn’t scare me anymore.

Some important things happened in that little old church. It was there that my parents dedicated me to God when I was just a tiny baby.  It was there that I heard the Word of God read and taught, and once I figured out what some of it meant, it’s where I adopted my parents’ faith for my own.  It’s where I worshiped and prayed with salt-of-the-earth neighbors, and where I first started to think serious thoughts about the meaning of life.

We were pretty sure the people who went to the other church didn’t have quite all of their theology straight.  “Bunch of dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists,” my dad called them.  Some who went to the church across town might be saved in spite of their misunderstanding of Scripture, we supposed, but we weren’t betting on it.

But you wanna’ know something?  I wouldn’t be surprised if I met up with some of those folks from the other church when I get to heaven.  Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Addiction Takes Us to a Place…

The Freedom to Surrender:

Addiction takes us to a place where we do what we do not want to do. Self-will, determination, pride, and ego kick in as over and over we repeat the pattern of obsession.

As time goes on shame, guilt, depression, and desolation cloak our being like a shroud.  Exhausted and defeated, we try to find the will to go on. If left to go on long enough, it takes us to place where we would rather die than live. We can’t live with the substance, yet we can’t live without it either.  We are in bondage to the stronghold of addiction.


The Hope is there is a Spiritual solution!  (Romans 7:15-20) Paul talks about doing exactly what he sets his mind not to do.  I don’t know whether his issue was addiction, but he certainly struggled with the very thing addiction did in my life.  Verse 20 describes it this way, “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (NKJV).

Paul found hope in Christ.  He found hope in the paradox of surrender.  Surrender is a process of death and rebirth.  Death to the sin by admitting powerlessness and allowing God to make us new.  In (Romans 8:1) Paul says, “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (NKJV). Going to verse 5 it explains the ACTION of surrender “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”


I struggled for quite some time with surrender.  It felt like giving up, and I was no quitter!  I also didn’t like feeling victimized by this substance that had complete control over me.  Surrender meant acknowledging that. That was scary. It was not until I became WILLING to surrender that things began to change.  I asked God to help me be willing to surrender.  I needed help from Him to face my fears.  Things began to change.


The joy of recovery is that we grow in a new relationship with God as we daily surrender our will to Him.  He directs and guides us to the level we are willing to let Him. ~ Terri