The still grey valleys–Snohomish and Skagit–grow smaller as we keep driving. It’s Sunday morning, early, and Holly and I are on a quest. We’re searching for history. History in general: as we drive east along Highway 20, towards the closed Washington Pass, towns built a century ago still bear the faces of their youth. History in particular: ours.
We are going to Concrete, Washington, site of Concrete Community Bible Church, where I am speaking in the 10:00 AM service about my upcoming sojourn as a missionary teacher at Black Forest Academy. It’s the church I attended sporadically as a child, mostly for Vacation Bible School and Christmas pageants. The memories I have of this town are linked mostly to this church; my life in Skagit Valley, which I left at the age of eleven, took place 15 miles further down the road. I recall youth group ventures and choir rehearsals, vague Bible-related endeavors in the basement whose floor plan echoes back from childhood.
It is the liability of the pastor’s kids to always take their pastors along with them. Since I have always attended my father’s churches, at any given moment only one of the three can exist as I knew it. Island Community Church is full mostly of strangers. Alaythia Fellowship remains in memories and friendships only. Though I have always been happy in the communities that surround me, there is also a sense that I’m erasing history from behind me as I go. No one in Seattle knew me prior to adolescence. Until Sunday, I forgot that anyone did at all.
We arrive at the church in time for Adult Sunday School, and Pastor Rob immediately rushes to greet us. He marvels at how grown-up we are, as it’s been a decade since we last attended church here, and declares excitement for what I’m about to share. I’m excited, too, though I haven’t yet inherited my father’s nonchalant public speaking skills.
The church is warm and small, and just as I remembered it down to the banners that hang on the walls. (I found myself staring at the same red heart scribbled across a crucifix that held my eight-year-old attention through sermons I didn’t understand.) Before the service starts, several members of the congregation greet us genially, recalling our days at Alaythia. We are anomalies, the girls who left the valley and now travel the world, but even so we’re received, after all these years, with an easy hospitality that inspires me. I don’t feel like an outsider here–just a long-gone insider.
The speaking goes well, and as I stand in front of the church I realize that my strongest passion for teaching at BFA comes from the fact that the students there are the children of ministry families. It’s a position I know well, the knowledge about faith without necessarily a personal understanding. And as I speak to this church, seeing people who mentored me in faith as a child, I realize the deep importance of teachers–Sunday School and otherwise–in bringing up the next generation of Christ-followers. I realize that there is a deep appropriateness in beginning my support-gathering ventures here, at the beginning of my calling. These are the people who invested me, just as they continue to invest in the young people in their community, and I’m inspired by both the past and the present as I speak to them, as they welcome me.
After a long lunch with old friends, a scenic drive through the greenest valley, Holly and I deemed the quest a success. We came with words and curiosity; we a reminder that we are part of Christ’s body, linked together by history and, more importantly, the Lord we serve together.