FENTON, MI – Moscow made me stop and take a picture. Not that Moscow. I am talking about Moscow, Michigan on a rainy, windy Sunday in October. The colorful wet leaves dropped from the trees as I waited for my camera to focus.
The building in the picture is what remains of the former Moscow Plains Methodist Church that was erected in 1852. The typical church cemetery is at the rear of the building. Old headstones, smooth and aged laid in the same yard as the 2012 plot for Dick Herman, Jr. of Monroe, MI. Dick attended Michigan State University Farmer’s Short Course, but was a big rig instructor and driver most of his adult life before passing away. At least, that is what Dick’s obituary reported. It is easy to see that the site meant something to people from the past, and it still means something to families today. The former church is surrounded by farmland. One quiet, lonely looking white house with bright-green trim across the road, was the stage for the sale of a faded, dark colored SUV.
I walked the yard before I entered the store. The yellow, burgundy, and white sign for the “Moscow Trading Post” was accurate. There were antiques and vintage items everywhere. Vanes from a modest-sized farm windmill caught my eye but at $75 I kept on walking. Rain was falling and the wind was starting to pick up.
I walked the long access ramp, slippery from the morning rain and the wet, orphaned leaves lying on the boards. Inside, I found Terry and Brenda Kittle who own and run the place. They purchased the building during the summer of 2016. Terry has dark, short hair and a day’s growth on his face. He wears a flannel shirt comfortably and his kind spirit is amplified by his invitation, “Come on in. There’s coffee on. Looking for anything in particular?” Terry motioned me toward the single-cup coffee maker. Terry’s wife stood to his side. Brenda was quiet and seemed shy but she had a warm, little smile.
A young couple arrived at the same time I did. Dressed casually, they talked aloud to one another about the delicious brunch they had eaten in Jonesville. All of us in the small warm building heard about their morning over the creaking wooden floor beneath our feet. The pair walked quickly from one aisle, in the former church, to another discussing whether or not that object or another would go well on the wall between the entryway and living room of their home. They made their rounds, to the upstairs balcony, the basement, and then returned to the main floor with a purchase in hand. The husband was certain it would fit measuring it again with the tape measure that had been repeatedly placed and withdrawn from his pant’s pocket during the shopping spree.
On that particular Sunday morning when I happened upon the Moscow Trading Post, I had already spent the morning with Hillsdale Baptist Church and Pastor Daniel Pann for Missions Sunday. I spoke twice. I enjoyed a fellowship meal and I visited with members until a dozen of us remained in the fellowship hall. I started my drive back home to Brighton. I had both hands on the steering wheel since the 40-mile per hour gusts were punching my pickup back and forth. I drove in silence and left the radio off. I thought to myself, “This has been an enjoyable week: South Central Association in Hastings to the southwest, the Upper Peninsula Association in Newberry in the north, and Hillsdale to the south. All within four days. I love the people,and I love their dedication.”
As I maneuvered the entrance to I-94 East after leaving the rural roads of Hillsdale and Spring Arbor behind me, the Moscow Trading Post came to my mind again, “How should I feel about a former 1852 church building being turned into a store?” Pragmatic in nature like I am I stopped thinking about whether or not I liked a church becoming an antique store. I consoled myself with the thought, “Perhaps the congregation grew so large that they moved to a larger lot or near more homes in the community.”
More importantly, my mind turned toward the fellowship I had enjoyed, all week long in Baptist associations and with Hillsdale Baptist. Specifically, I was grateful that the churches with whom I spent time are striving to find ways to impact their local areas, independently and corporately as associations. I expressed to the Lord, during my drive, how thankful I was for Baptist Associations and churches like Hillsdale that are engaged with local, state, national, and international ministries.
I thought to myself as I drove past Jackson, “Change is out of our control!” Buildings are going to outlive their usefulness. Churches will move from one location to another. Communities that surround churches are going to change. There is little to nothing we can do about that; but I do hope that we will always address those changes together.
Effective Baptist Associations bring people together. Congregations that unite for certain events and causes can achieve more by working together than they can apart. Social and moral causes can be addressed. Prayer gatherings can overcome obstacles with God’s movement. Daring and discouraged Christians can share their seasons of effectiveness and setbacks. The unsaved in a community will listen to the Gospel more often if local congregations and their membership are living out holy lives in the community. Fellowship reminds every church member and every church that they are not alone in their undertaking to change the world for Christ. That is why this November, during Thanksgiving, I am taking time to express my gratitude for Baptist Associations.
I am also grateful for a popular book by Will Mancini entitled, God Dreams, in which he writes, “Think about it: God doesn’t stand in heaven with a photocopy machine every time a local church is started. Your church was born an original; don’t let it become a carbon copy on your watch.”
I believe that the better churches and the better associations discover what it is that they do well and lean into that unique quality that makes them better. During this holiday season and into 2018, I hope you will explore your local association and discover the strength that comes from uniting together over the local area for specific missions that you and other churches are uniquely equipped to a handle. If you need help understanding who in your area is part of the local Baptist Association call us at (810) 714-1907. We can direct you.
By the way, you might be interested in the couple’s purchase. They found their treasure! The store owners and I knew it the moment the search was over. The couple’s foot-stomps suddenly stopped. In the quiet we heard the wife gush in a reverent whisper, “Honey, can you pull that third door out from the stack leaning against the wall? I love the old panels of glass in the door. Look at how that old paint is curled up in spots over the bottom panels. You can see years of color on that door. I love it!”
I must confess, I moved to a position in the store so that I could see the expression on the husband’s face. I raised an old metal toy, crusted with rust, to eye level so I could spy on the couple. I wanted to see if the man was as happy as his wife sounded. It appeared so. The man noted the absence of the door handle, none the less, he was careful not to break off the layers of curled paint as he moved the precious door from the wall, to Terry Kittle, and finally to a soft blanket in the back of his pick-up.
Reflecting later on, still miles from home and with the sound of my wiper-blades warning me the rain was letting-up with the squeak of rubber against dry glass, I rolled the switch and turned off the wipers. I thought, “That couple’s emotions, at the store, resembled what I’ve sometimes heard when young couples realize they found the right church.” Oh, that God would let us hear something like that throughout the churches in Michigan a thousand times this next year, “Oh honey, I love it! We found what we’ve been looking for.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.