The marquee sign at Dancy First Baptist Church read this past Sunday, “God has blessed our church.” Since early February the sign had read, “Forgive them. They know not what they do.”
More than 250 persons gathered at the church to worship and celebrate the rededication of this smaller rural church. The congregation Sunday was a “salt and pepper” one.
The wording of the old sign caught the attention of persons, churches and businesses across America. This statement of love for even those who had defaced the church house which the congregation had worked and sacrificed to build just seven years ago, struck a responsive chord in many hearts.
Pastor Walter Hawkins announced that more that 150 persons and groups had contributed money, work and materials toward the restoration process. Among them was the First Baptist Church of Vincent, Ala., which presented a beautiful new Communion set to the Dancy church in the course of the service. Pastor Hawkins was overjoyed to be back in his pulpit.
The new sign set the tone for the day. Speaker after speaker declared that this was indeed a blessed church. Church members shared that their first reaction was a sense of despair, but then their faith “kicked in” and they knew deep in their hearts that God would make a way for them. Non-members shared that the love of the Dancy congregation had inspired them. They were grateful to Dancy for allowing them to share in the rebuilding process.
The church took the opportunity in the rebuilding process to correct some flaws in the earlier building and to add additional Sunday school and fellowship space. The furnishings in the auditorium were first class.
Even the art in the baptistry, a picture of a young man being baptized as others watched, had been restored. How different it looked and smelled after the fire had so severely damaged the interior.
The primary speaker at the service was Rev. Schmitt Moore of the Bethel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He took as his text Isaiah 43:1-7. He noted that God has brought the children of Israel through the water and the fire, and He was repeating this in the life of the Dancy First Baptist Church.
The service concluded with the master of ceremonies, Clarence Bozeman, calling for the church to join him in praying for the young men accused of setting the church afire. We did and will continue to do so.
As I have reflected upon the service this past Sunday, I have thought about how on several occasions people asked Jesus what life was about–just what God expected of humankind. His response was always that they ought to love God deeply and love their neighbors as well as they loved themselves.
The folk at Dancy have given every evidence of taking this teaching to heart. And while their consistent practice of it may seem “counter-cultural” to many, it moved others emotionally and spiritually. Dancy is certainly a church blessed of God. We await to see what happens in the lives of the arsonists.
What about the other churches that were set on fire last Feb. 7? Spring Valley plans to be back in their building on August first. Galilee and Morning Star, whose old buildings were destroyed by the fires, plan to start on new buildings this summer and look to be back in facilities of their own by the first of the year.
Dancy has led the way. Many offers of assistant have come to the other churches as well. Soon they too will be able to declare, “God has blessed our church.”
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.