Monday, July 27, 2009

27 JUL 09: First, Alive, Local

What a difference one year can make. On this day a year ago, TV cameras waited outside a Phenix City church for the results of a dramatic vote. One year later, TV cameras were missing - and church members brought their own cameras. For smiling at each other, not spying on each other.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: First Baptist Church of Phenix City held "Pastor Appreciation Day" Sunday, complete with anniversary cakes and a dinner after the service. One year earlier, such an event would have been unthinkable -- as dozens of members seemingly wanted a Pastor Depreciation Day, to trade him in as inexpensively as possible.

Pastor Eugene Langner Jr. told your blog he never saw so much "meanness and evil" as he did in the weeks leading to last July's vote on his ouster. This indicates to me he turns off the TV set during prime-time.

Eugene Langner added some of the people who showed up for the big vote last July at Phenix City First Baptist "hadn't been here in 20 years." I tried to crack a joke about an unusual homecoming service, but he seemed to disagree with that....

Another Phenix City First Baptist minister told me opponents of the pastor tried to pack the pews for last summer's big vote. People reportedly were pulled out of nursing homes and hospitals to appear at church. Someone should have told the ministers that - at least so they could have extra anointing oil ready.

We were invited back to Phenix City First Baptist for what one member called "Independence Day," to see how things had changed. The first obvious change was a lack of "pew-packing." We could have had a front-row seat at the worship service - except we heard a minister say years ago how nice it is to save that row for latecomers.

In contrast to last July, the focus was positive at Sunday's Phenix City First Baptist worship service. Only one thing might have made critics of the pastor uncomfortable - a musician on the platform. I noticed he warmed up for the service by playing the bass line of Michael Jackson's song "Beat It."

The Chairman of Phenix City First Baptist's trustees called it a "very happy day," but his opening remarks were NOT filled with boasting. Dr. David White said the congregation last summer had become "complacent.... self-centered.... lazy in our faith...." It's one thing to rest in the Lord on the Sabbath, but being lazy apparently is something else.

Dr. David White noted Phenix City First Baptist Church has added 33 new members in the last 12 months. But ministers admitted to me afterward about 100 members left, in the wake of the vote to keep the pastor. So this church appears to be about two months ahead of the rest of the U.S., when it comes to having a recession.

We noted here last July how many famous names attended Phenix City First Baptist [28 Jul 08]. I'm told former mayor Sammy Howard left the church as a result of the pastoral vote, as did former councilor Ray Bush. But former police chief Brian McGarr remained, and helped in the kitchen with Sunday's dinner - ready to detain juvenile delinquents trying to steal early dessert.

Dr. David White told the congregation the budget at Phenix City First Baptist Church is now "stable." The ushers made sure of that Sunday - as unlike last July, the offering plate actually came down my row.

The trustees' presentation ended with the congregation of Phenix City First Baptist giving Pastor Eugene Langner a standing ovation. And I didn't notice anyone standing up to walk out, either....

"Thank you for being you," Pastor Eugene Langner said in response. Then during his sermon, he noted how some members had engaged in "sacrificial giving" during the last 12 months - while others took on "multiple positions." Yes, it IS possible to count the offering after teaching a Sunday School class.

The sermon for Pastor Appreciation Day was about "Life Changing Moments" - and Pastor Eugene Langner clearly indicated the vote on his tenure last summer was one of them. He recalled the church had an emotional service that July evening, where things began to change. But at this point, the offering envelopes have NOT been revised to say "Rebuilding Fund."

The worship hour with your blogger being invited to join in the covered-dish luncheon. As one member put it: "Follow the chicken smell; we're a Baptist church...."

(We should note for full disclosure that we DID give an offering, DID eat lunch with the congregation - and a minister at Phenix City First Baptist humbled us by becoming a "blog patron" with a financial donation. If you think all Baptists lack a sense of humor, it's time to think again.)

We left with the feeling that First Baptist Church of Phenix City is a peaceful place again. Eugene Langner Jr. begins his 27th year as church pastor, and a check of a church hallway shows that's far longer than his recent predecessors. But one question remained, which we admittedly didn't pursue. Can you really play shuffleboard on a church gym floor that's carpeted?

Now let's see what else made news over the weekend....

+ Area law enforcement officers began a seven-day crackdown called "Take Back Our Highways." Which leads me to ask - who has them now? It's not like I'm seeing NASCAR pit crews and drug dealers at every exit ramp along Interstate 185.

+ Gas prices in parts of the Columbus area jumped by ten cents a gallon, with a low price of $2.25 per gallon at Marathon on Summerville Road. OK, OK - maybe the minimum wage should have stayed where it was.

+ A documentary was shown at the Columbus Public Library on local civil rights history. The film is titled "Can Two Walk Together?" If only two people had done that 50 years ago, the civil rights movement still would be lagging across the South.

+ Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama announced he's made a decision on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor - but will NOT reveal it before Tuesday's committee vote. Aw c'mon! Based on everything I've heard, an "aye" vote on the nomination will be the first positive thing Sessions has said about her.

+ The Chattahoochee Shakespeare Company presented a matinee performance of "The Rocky Horror Show." I assume this production includes the "time warp" dance - which for most older people means something they do at Westville.

(If you think it's strange that a "Shakespeare Company" is presenting Rocky Horror, consider this. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery has been presenting a play about Bear Bryant, and I haven't heard any complaints about that.)

+ Instant Message to the young man I saw in a yellow shirt on South Lumpkin Road the other afternoon: Really now - I don't think the center of the four-lane road is reserved for people on roller skates.

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