Pastor Olen Griffing, founder and pastor of Shady Grove Church, and his wife Syble
Last Friday night, I said good-bye to a room. Strange, but that’s what I did. The missionaries of our church enjoyed a Jewish Sabbath celebration in the hospitality room of our old church building. Since the old church has been sold–and we are now situating in a new building–this Sabbath celebration was our “Last Supper” in that room.
Why so melancholy about a room?
The major events of my life happened in that room: our wedding shower and reception, our baby shower for Julia, Wayne’s graduation celebration when he became a Ph.D., and our going-away party when the church sent us to the mission field. Those events are significant to us and a few others, but they are just the tip of the iceberg for the goings-on in that room over the last three decades plus.
The hospitality room served as the backdrop to the community of Shady Grove Church. It was sort of the church family room–the only thing missing was a roaring fire. We gathered there almost weekly for some kind of function, prayer meeting, planning meeting, or meal.
The Lord shook our lives in that room. We shook the heavens. We shook the gates of hell. And we held each other when the world shook us.
It was the warmth and happiness of that room that bubbled up in my heart when we lived on the mission field for seven years. In lonely, dark moments, I would remember the monthly church-staff meetings in the hospitality room that came with business, planning, a delicious lunch, and raucous laughter. We told stories on each other, and often we laughed until we cried.
We did skits in that room. We had costume parties and held competitions. The school academy held dinners and plays, and we raised money that took us to far and near places. We ate delicious meals and some crummy meals too. We did serious business with God. We shed tears and confessed sins. We hugged and hurt and healed and hoped in that room.
Each new member of the church passed through that room for a special dinner and prayer upon completion of “First Principles.” They were prayed for and encouraged in the work of the Lord in the house of the Lord and beyond.
Wayne served as an elder for about ten years with a group of wonderful men under the direction of an outstanding founder and senior pastor, and we used that room for the elders’ Christmas parties. The elders had an oral archive “book” of stories on each other. We rehearsed the funny stories of each others’ lives in that room. We sometimes begged the best story tellers to tell us the stories of our lives over and over.
Sometimes we gathered in that room for prayer and experienced glorious visitations of the Holy Spirit, with prophetic direction for each of our lives. Sometimes other pastors or church leaders came there and gave us new insight into Scripture or helped us link arms with others to make our outreaches more significant.
We have had meals after funerals in that room. I remember when two elders died, and we watched their wives move in rote through the actions of their lives on the day of the funerals. We gathered afterward in that room and comforted them and each other. Others have died, and we mourned there as a community.
My life happened in that room.
Our lives happened in that room. In that room, I came to realize that I am not alone. God has joined me by covenant to a wonderful, God-fearing community of believers. We are sharing our lives. Sometimes, we hit hard places and hurt each other. The pain has been deep. Sometimes a few of us have been called away to serve the Lord somewhere else. The pain was deep then too. Sometimes we felt alone in that room, like no one understood us or our calling. Sometimes we asked forgiveness of one another in that place. But we always stuck it out.
Scripture admonishes us to “forget the past,” and “press on to the things that lie ahead.” That is what our community is doing. We are in a new building. And it seems stiff like a new pair of shoes that need to be broken in. We don’t have a lot of memories in the new place yet, but we will.
Honestly, it surprised me just how emotional I felt about saying good-bye to the hospitality room. It is part of the “letting go” of the comfortable to embrace the new. The new will grow comfortable too, in time. In fact, the new will be glorious and exceed the old; but the first steps are hard and painful.
I am so glad that most of the same faces of our community are still around to cheer each other on into the uncertainty of the new rooms of tomorrow. I know these new rooms will be where my daughter will live out the important steps of her life, with her generation cheering her on as a champion in Christ.
The new rooms that we step into now are about the next generation. They will fill them with their own stories and prayers and laughter, and we will fade into the memories of the past.
There will be a glorious day when all of us who have shared the moments of our lives in one special room will step over to a new heavenly room. I am remembering the words of Jesus, “I go to prepare a place for you.” In that room above, we will share our lives in the same wonderful way. Only Jesus will join us there in a new way. We will see Him as He is, the person who brought us together in the first place.