The rented building is less than perfect. The cement floors are painted, because when it rains more than an inch, it tends to flood, making carpet unpleasant and dangerous. If you look closely you can see the water stains on the doors and stage. Ghastly flower patterned curtains hang in the big front widows, and we’re afraid they’ll fall apart if we wash them, so we take them outside and shake them. When the wind blows the right way the roof leaks, and the old piano has water rings and cigarette burns, from when it was a bar. But most of the people who will be there today won’t notice those things, and won’t know it’s history or why it means so much to us.

Three men worked most of the day cleaning and decorating, not as hard though as they worked three years ago tearing down warped and peeling plywood and painting the cinderblock walls they uncovered, and not as hard as they worked tearing out the old mildewed carpets and painting the floors. Three years ago they were also four. The missing man literally risked life and limb climbing to the roof and attaching the cross. He then insisted on painting the edges black to make it stand out. We lost Steve eighteen months ago to a heart attack, six months before we became a “real” church. His daughter came and signed his name to the church charter. It felt right.

Today we will celebrate out first anniversary. We’ve grown from twelve to more than forty. We’ve learned to forgive and to trust again. We’ve hurt and cried and laughed until we cried. We’ve become a family, a family with it’s problems, but one of which I’m proud. Looking out across the pews you see diversity, colors ranging from pale and freckled to dark and glossy, and ages from eighteen months to eighty-four years. You see suits and ties seated next to jeans and t-shirts and uniforms. The common thread is love.

This is the church of which it was sarcastically said, “Just what Newark needs, another church.” As a matter of fact, it did.

I think I’m ready now. I’ve cried my tears both happy and sad. It’s time to celebrate. The brisket is in the oven, the tempura green beans are on the counter, and the pea salad and banana pudding are in the fridge.

Baptists love to eat.

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