With winter approaching, it’s not a bad idea to get your battery recharged. I did just that a couple of weeks ago. But not my car battery. My spiritual one.
It happened at First Baptist Church right here on Water Street in Pittston. And not just to me, but to the 75 or 80 others (that’s a guess) who get recharged there every single Sunday morning. I was a guest, and a most welcomed one, I wish to add, invited by my friends Bob and Jane Lussi to help celebrate the 12th anniversary of the installation of First Baptist Pastor Jim Breese.
The service, not including the bountiful lunch that followed, lasted every bit of three hours. That’s three, period. Hours, period. But it flew by. I often say my aim in life is to make time disappear. That’s what happens when we are completely joyful. And that’s what happens at First Baptist.
But it’s not what happened the first time I attended a service there. That morning, I was far from joyful. More like terrified. And time did not stand still. It practically stopped.
It was 12 years ago and then, too, I had been invited by Bob and Jane. Actually, I had been asked if I would speak at the luncheon following the installation of Rev. Breese as pastor, and I felt it appropriate to attend the church service, as well. A few moments into it, I knew I had made a mistake.
A few days earlier I had prepared what I thought was a good little talk. Dorothy Miller, a parishioner of more than 50 years and one of the planners of the installation, had asked me to speak about the church’s history and gave me a hefty volume from which to glean my remarks. Finding interesting material was easy. First Baptist is officially “the first regularly constituted Baptist organization in Luzerne County.” Organized as a congregation in 1776, its roots in Pittston go back to 1769.
And if that is not eyebrow-raising enough, in 1778, the church nearly folded when several members either died in or were dispersed by the Battle of Wyoming, often called the Wyoming Massacre. Only 12 members remained but still the congregation survived.
The church at 14 Water St., where the congregation meets to this day, was completed in 1865.
Included in the cornerstone was a copy of the New Testament, a list of church members, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Construction cost was $14,000.
All this wonderful information I had woven into my speech, so I was ready. Or so I thought.
What I was not ready for was the performance of Bishop Wallace Smith, Pastor Breese’s mentor, at the church service. Imagine the most powerful speech you’ve ever heard on the TV news or in a movie and multiply it a hundredfold and you have some idea of how dynamic this man is. With Bishop Wallace’s magnetism filling the church, with cries of “Amen!” punctuating his words, and parishioners all around me leaping to their feet, and shooting and waving their arms, I sat shaking in my boots, thinking how lame my luncheon speech was going to sound following the “Bishop Wallace Show.”
My friend John Markarian, 90 years old at the time, whose ancestors were among the founding members of First Baptist, would be attending the luncheon and I got him aside beforehand and pleaded with him to shout “Amen!” at some point during my talk. And he did. Right after I introduced him as the most intelligent, interesting man I had ever met.
The laughter that produced put wind in my sails and allowed me to get through the speech relatively unscathed.
How different things were during my recent visit when I actually looked forward to Bishop Wallace Smith’s appearance and was able to enjoy and appreciate his preaching and teaching along with everyone else.
I make it a point to attend services at First Baptist every now and then and always walk away recharged and renewed. Love fills the air in this church and you cannot help but breathe it in. That’s the way Pastor Jim Breese, who’s learned his lessons well from Bishop Wallace, wants it. His goal when he came to First Baptist, he’s said, was to create “a loving church.” Twelve years later, it’s clear he’s done just that.
The church being located on Water Street, where it’s been for 153 years, is most appropriate, I think. Whenever I’m there, my mind wanders to the reference to living water in the Gospel of John. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” John quotes Jesus, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Words to which, much like parishioners of First Baptist, or my pal John Markarian, I too want to shout “Amen!”
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.