It was supposed to be a soft opening. You’ve seen the signs in the windows of the new business in town that read “opening soon.” After the doors were open for a few weeks and the employees got the kinks worked out, then the sign was changed to “grand opening.” We all know that nothing ever seems to go just right without as least some run through, some time for practice, some time to test the machines, the mechanics, the logistics of an operation. That’s why you have a soft opening. And it was supposed to be a soft opening.
But it wasn’t. It was a grand opening from the get go. It was an all hands on deck kind of day. No chance for a quick run through. That time was over, if there was ever really a time for that. They opened the doors and in came a whole bunch of people. In came the church.
Four years ago First Baptist Temple’s sanctuary and administrative building was destroyed by fire. I remember the day well. In the coming days following, the staff scrambled to find alternate places of worship, new locations for meetings and administrative offices, and sought very hard to define a new normal. What once was was no more. It’s been a long four years, filled with meetings and plans,carrying out the plans, and more meetings and plans. It’s been crossing streets to go to a staff meeting, unloading trailers and trunks for worship and generally doing whatever was needed to be done to carry on a ministry to people. The building was destroyed, but the church has lived on. And thrived, actually.
We’ve learned that a building is not the church. It’s a great tool and makes things a whole lot easier, but a building still isn’t the church. God’s people are the church. And through the years the church known as First Temple has redefined itself, refined literally by the fire from an arsonist’s hand. What one person designed as evil, God redeemed for good. And the church learned and grew and stretched forward to reach out to a new future.
For the past four years we have planned and prayed, worshiped and given of our financial resources. At every point, at every level, God has blessed our efforts. And so today we opened a new building to reach a new generation, to house the people of God known as First Temple, his church. We opened the doors and they came. A great number came, filling the seats and the hallways and the classrooms, even filling the indoor play area. As good Baptists, we served coffee and doughnuts and had other goodies as well. We hugged necks and shed tears of joy and stood long after the last note had been played, basking in the divine moment.
What lies ahead, we do not know. But our hearts are full and we are excited about new possibilities, the opportunities to dream new dreams, the prospect of new faces that we have yet to meet. God has plans for us and has given us a renewed hope and steadfast courage for the days ahead.
It was supposed to be a soft opening. But it wasn’t. It was grand in every way.