Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: I went to church...


I went to church last Sunday.

Not surprising, you might think. After all, one of my jobs is serving as a full-time pastor. I go to church - a lot. I work at the church Monday through Thursday. About once a month, I also have to work on Friday or Saturday. Sunday is game day. I don't have to be at church as early as some folks on our team, but I do have to preach three services. These are live-streamed out to our campuses and online. But Sunday mornings are also spent in conversations between services. I check in with people: "How's your son doing with his cancer?" I pray with people. I hear complaints about how cold the worship center is (I do not have access to the thermostat). One Sunday a month, I do a Q&A session for our new members class. One Sunday a month, I have a deacon's meeting and a Direction Team meeting. Sundays are full days.

But last Sunday, I went to church.

My wife was out of town for a conference. I didn't have to preach Sunday. We were working cows at the ranch in Florida. So, I left town on Thursday and didn't come back until Tuesday. I had unhurried time in my hometown, time enough to visit cousins, to clean out some drawers at the ranch house and to ride through the pasture without someone saying, "Can we go back now? I've seen enough cows." For the record, you can never see enough cows.

When Sunday morning came, I admit I was tempted to stay in bed. But I woke up at my usual time. I left the house to grab breakfast, then came back. Do you know how much time you have on Sunday when you are not preaching at 8:30 and 9:45? I got dressed and made my way to my home church.

The old oaks still shade the trucks in the church parking lot, though the trucks are much more expensive than they used to be. I walked through the doors right at 11. Standing in the small lobby (churches in town call them "vestibules") were the deacons. The faces were different, but ever since I was a boy, the deacons of my home church have stood in the lobby as the service started. Years ago, one deacon confessed to me he served as a deacon so he wouldn't have to be in the sanctuary for the singing.

I slipped into the sanctuary and sat on the second-to-the-last pew, right in front of Mr. Wilbur. Wilbur will turn 90 soon; he has been at my home church my whole life. I worried about surprising him; you don't want to shock 90-year-olds.

The kids of the church were singing. If you are discouraged by the state of the world, go to a church service when the kids sing. Your soul will be lifted. We sang some new songs, then the old hymns of the faith.

The preacher, who I have met a few times, preached a good message. He held my attention. Then, they served the Lord's Supper, or Communion, as some folks call it. It hit me that it had been a long time since I was served the Lord's Supper instead of officiating during the serving of the supper. Thirty years, in fact. It was good simply to sit and be served. Before we took the bread, the preacher said, "Jesus said, 'Do this in remembrance.'" And I remembered.

I remembered the sacrifice of Jesus. But seated next to the stained-glass window given in memory of my father, I also remembered my brother, my sister, my mother, my stepfather and my dad, all of them gone from this earth. They had sat in these same pews through the decades. My eyes got misty, and I felt their absence. I miss these people.

The service ended, and I spoke to Mr. Wilbur. He is still alert, still standing tall. The wife of my cousin came up and talked to me for a while about health and grandchildren, and life. One of the high school girls I know said "hi," then rushed up on stage to practice for next week's youth service. I saw the music director and thanked him for a job well done. Before I knew it, I was the last one to leave. That was more like a typical Sunday for me.

Going to church is a great privilege. Give church folks half a chance, and they will love you. If you listen and don't criticize, you can get something out of most any sermon. And when the children sing, it will restore your soul.

Church also gives you time to hear from God. He might remind you, as he reminded me, that I need to be thankful for a rich heritage, for a family that loved me and for grace, the gentle grace of God that forgives my soul and invites me to follow Jesus.

Go to church Sunday. It is good for your soul.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at