This past May, I was in my old church with a young and talented videographer. While he was shooting parts of the sanctuary, I saw the three pieces of church furniture—pulpit, font, and table—where I had conducted God's amazing grace.
My mind raced back to the children upon whom I poured the shocking waters of God’s covenantal love. To all those Sundays of proclaiming the wonders of God’s story of fierce pursuit in the two Testaments to flawed human beings who were thinking about Detroit Tigers scores, getting back to Sunset Manor Retirement Village for lunch, or the cookies on the back table in the fellowship room.
In those three pieces of furniture I saw three wooden storytellers that we have taken for granted in our churches. They could speak to us about our salvation stories if only we would stand still long enough to listen.
Here’s one baptismal crime story. A family presented their new young son for baptism. The couple’s middle son was standing next to his parents. As I was reading the parental vows for baptism, the child slammed his fist into his brother’s head. I stopped immediately. The parents and congregation were shocked by the juvenile assault. This kid’s action answered the first question I asked the parents: “Do you acknowledge that our children, who are sinful from the time of conception and birth. . . . ” This child showed us all what the baptismal font reminds us: that God’s faithfulness remains, despite the sins that are seen or hidden. The font reminds us again that God first loved us in Jesus Christ.
My friend Rev. Peter Gordon once told me the baptismal font should be the entry door as we come to the worship space. Why? The font reminds us how we got into God’s family in the first place. The font whispers to us “Remember your baptism.”
From the pulpit I preached funerals, weddings, and worship services. While I was being considered for Roosevelt Park Church in 1993, a young Cary Kuiper sent me a letter asking me to come as the first pastor because she said there were a lot of good people there. She said that if she liked them, I would like them too. In 2007, Cary died suddenly. She was only 34 years old. I remembered standing in the back of church, crying. I wanted to run because it was too hard to preach Cary’s funeral. She meant a lot to me despite all the annoying questions she’d asked after a service. The pulpit was the support I needed to proclaim the gospel in the midst of tears and questions. Cary’s father once told me that death stops everything when a person dies. Preachers for centuries have stood behind the wooden stand to proclaim that death has been swallowed up in victory by the risen Savior.
The pulpit stands as a witness that there is a Word from the Lord. As Reformed Christians, “the historical reality of the words and acts of the Savior becomes the content of proclamation. The preaching of the church always pointed back to that event” (Psalter Hymnal Supplement, p. 6). The pulpit is our Good News witness.
The communion table invited memories of an old man who never believed he would receive the sacrament from a black pastor. Bill was a recovering alcoholic. He joined Roosevelt Park Church because he felt welcomed and accepted. He told me that he was racist because he was fed a steady diet of racism from his parents. Bill was from the Netherlands. But Bill received the bread and juice from me as Christ’s gift to him. He never missed it until his death.
Church furniture tells our story of God’s redemptive thread of grace and faithfulness. Grab a seat and listen to the story of God’s grace from the witnesses of wood.
Questions for Discussion
- If you grew up in the church, what did the pulpit look like? What memories does it evoke?
- Think about the first time you received communion. What were your thoughts and feelings?
- What part does your baptism play in your everyday life?
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Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight