I was made for this

"It feels like resurrection." Small church member Beth Bradshaw reflects on the ups and downs of attending a church in a small town.

Photo by Christian Mackie on Unsplash

I couldn’t wait to leave the tiny United Methodist Church in Lepanto, Arkansas, where I grew up. Going to college meant graduating from this small farming community in the northeast Arkansas Delta and our church, where my sisters and I were often the only kids. We had no youth group. We performed all the acolyte duties and served communion. The weekly rhythm of my life to include Sunday morning worship was set. Although I was nurtured and loved, I was excited to experience a big church.

Throughout college, medical school and residency, I hopped from one big church to the next in Fayetteville, Orlando, Little Rock, and Dallas. I enjoyed the anonymity of being able to go to church without getting involved or needing to make a commitment. I was a spectator. And for 11 years, I loved it. I enjoyed the elaborate music, the big choirs, the seemingly flawless services — so much going on, even if I didn’t participate.

After residency, my husband and I moved back to his hometown of Wynne, Arkansas, to start our practices, raise our family and put down roots. I always assumed I would live in a larger city, but my husband always knew he would become a family practice physician in the town where grew up. I joined in on that dream, and when we arrived in Wynne, joined his Presbyterian church.

I laugh when I think of my 18-year-old self ready to move out of a small town and up in the world. Wynne is a town of 8,000 people, and I live 10 miles outside of it. While it is larger than the town I grew up in, it’s still smaller than where I thought I would end up. I now attend a church that is the same size as my childhood church.

Our church experienced a lot of loss over the last year. In three months, we lost our pastor, a youth leader, treasurer, administrative assistant, organist, pianist and a Sunday school teacher. When I look back, I can’t believe we even pulled off a worship service.

But some of those difficulties helped us focus on the present, on what we have here and now, and on what it means to be the church. The gifts and talents of the people in our congregation bubbled to the surface during those difficult times. When all the extras seemed to fade away, it was easier to focus on what mattered. We engaged in meaningful worship. We renewed our commitment to serve our community through our day school and work to make it the best we can for all children. We worked to ensure our youth group continued to remain a vibrant place for members and friends to grow in their faith together. We opened ourselves to new ideas. We often say to ourselves that no matter what difficulties arise, we will be the church. We will continue to worship, grow in faith and serve our community. We will not worry as much about how long we can keep our doors open. Instead, we concentrate on how our church can serve God and serve others.

Maintaining this attitude isn’t easy. But we do it, anyway. Even though we have found a wonderful new temporary pastor and a gifted administrative assistant who have moved us forward, our members are assuming a lot of responsibilities. I’m the PNC chair and co-worship chair. I also serve on the Christian Ed committee. On most Sundays, I’m either filming or managing the self-playing organ from my iPhone or performing liturgist duties. Several members have similarly sized lists of duties.

But there is something about the difficulties of being a small church that have made navigating them more rewarding than the ease of a decade ago.

Maybe it’s the closeness of a congregation where all hands are on deck. Maybe it’s giving up on the idea that we could do this ourselves and relying more on God. Maybe we’ve all grown in our faith. It’s hard to know exactly, but it feels good.

It feels like a resurrection. I guess I was made for this.