The Rev. Hope Lee Faith Matters column: Oct. 11, 2014

In the famous words of John Cougar Mellencamp, "I was born in a small town."

I went to a small school and an even smaller church. Sometimes we'd duck out during a longer hymn and run down to the general store to buy a piece of gum and run back before the preacher reached benediction.

When the mega-church blew into town, and mind you this was at the beginning of the mega-church movement, I begged my parents to let us go to where the cool new pastor with the cool new worship band and the really cool youth group was meeting.

Everybody else was doing it, but my parents said no.

Not only did they say no, but they made me go every Sunday to the small little church with the average preacher, the old-fashioned choir, and a youth group consisting of me, my brother, and the preacher's kids.

And that wasn't the worst part.

The worst part was everybody in that small little church knew my name. In fact, they knew everything about me.

When I went through confirmation as a teenager, they made such a big deal out of it you would've thought I was a local celebrity.

When I went off to college, 1,600 miles from that small little church, they stubbornly insisted on sending me cards and care packages at the start and end of every single semester.

My husband and I had to go back home to get married because although we hadn't lived in the small little town for more than a decade, every member of that church wanted to be there for the big day.

But nothing prepared us for what happened when we presented our oldest child for baptism.

When the pastor called us forward, I looked out at the small church and I knew every face and every name.

I saw Mr. Geary who wasn't particularly cool, but who spent 8 years teaching me Jesus loved me every Sunday morning.

I saw Mrs. Carol, who had to have been 108 when I was a teenager, and learned she still took the youth group skiing every winter.

And there was old Mrs. Erma, beaming from ear to ear, as she realized I was about to have a little girl who was going to be just like me with her black patent leather shoes that would scuff up the back of the pews.

These faces of the church were more than just a gathering place on Sundays, they are the family that raised me as a child of God and who, after all these years, gathered to help me raise my daughter.

If I didn't show up to something, it mattered to them.

I matter to them.

And now she matters to them -- even from hundreds of miles away.

Jesus, in his earthly ministry, had thousands of followers. But he poured his life into 12 disciples. He knew them by name and more importantly, by their heart. He spent hours upon hours with them, growing in deep relationship and walking with them through trials and joy.

Can you imagine if Jesus had a church of 12 people today? We'd write him off as a failure.

And yet, the enduring movement is the way of Jesus Christ is still around because of 12 people who were so deeply connected in relationship to our Savior and to each other they committed to a unique way of life that has stood the test of time.

I was born in a small town.

And I was raised in a small church.

I'm still hayseed enough to say looks who's in the big church.

But the small church, that's good enough for me.

The Rev. Hope Lee, lead pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, can be reached at 941-794-6229, or at Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald written by local clergy members.