Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.” Churchill was right, and I can testify to that. In the late 1950’s, a group of Free Methodists shaped a building. By 1972, they shaped a huge addition with a gymnasium, kitchen, preschool, and much nicer bathrooms. In 1990 or so, my mother, my sister, and me, showed up at the building and began to be shaped. In 2022, the congregation merged with another and the building was listed for sale.
When I heard that the conference leadership was taking this route, I knew I had to go see the place just one more time before the potential buyers — the “looky-loos” — started nosing around and kicking the real estate tires. More importantly, I knew I needed to make a pilgrimage (of sorts) to remember a pivotal era in my life and the building that shaped me.
As a church leader, I’ll be the first to say that “the church is a people, not a building” and it’s true. But space is meaningful. I have deep memories of the house I grew up in. Sound bytes — the way the floor creaked when you walked down the hallway. Visual recollections — the orange light in the kitchen and and popcorn ceilings that looked like cottage cheese. The way the shag carpeting felt on my face when I drove Hot Wheels on the living room floor. The smell of dust and cornbread and cold air in the doorway on chilly school mornings.
My house was just a house, not my family. Yet… the space established context for relationships. The same can be said about the church building that was home to my church family. Yeah, it’s just a building, just like my house was. But WFMC was, for me, a second home.
I had keys to the place when I was 14 and parked my bike in the stairwell of the Fellowship Hall. I can smell it now — an odd mix of paint and strong industrial spices from the commercial kitchen.
I ran wires through weird tunnels and rigged sound and light systems from ladders high in the air. It was on those climbs and crawls that my guardian angel worked overtime.
I dry cleaned the carpet and swept the gym floor. I mowed the big field with a Ford riding mower that Keith seized up because he didn’t check the oil. Or maybe that was me. It doesn’t matter. The youth pastor blamed both of us. But it was definitely Keith Luke.
I taught myself how to play bass on Steve’s sea-green Fender. I learned how to play drums, much of which Mike taught me. When nobody was around, I’d fire up the Allen Organ and play Shine, Jesus, Shine, which counted as blasphemy in those days of intense worship wars.
My parents were the first couple married there after the big addition in 1972. My mother’s funeral was held there. I remember none of it.
I learned to appreciate reading in Larry Cranston’s office, his walls lined with books.
The Sunday night services were made more palatable in the summers because the building had air conditioning. Loud air conditioning (for some reason). You could hear yourself getting cooled off in the middle of July. Shine, Jesus, Shine, we sang, their dockers and polo shirts a welcome relief from the suits of the morning.
They let me run sound when I was a kid. If they hadn’t, I would be here right now. They let me lead worship when I was 16, my knees shaking behind a 61 key Yamaha that I still have and will always treasure.
Earl, Ron, Sherry, Carl, Mark, Larry, Steve, Joyce, Tony, Robin, Tammy, Dave, Mike, Don, Art, Betty, Elma, Rich, Jack, Bill, Karen, Lynn, Amy, Joe, Ben. These are some of the adults who made a profound impact in my life, all of them in this building.
I was baptized here. I filled my own baptistry tank the night before, and I can tell you that it’s no easy task. If the future buyers need help, please let me know. It’s imperative that you open the drain only a little bit, lest you flood the basement. Keith did that, too. Just kidding. That was all me.
There are all these useless tidbits of information that roll around in my head about this place. Where’s the breaker for the new sound booth? What does this grey wire do? Why did that catch on fire? These are all questions I have answers for, which nobody will ever ask. However, the events and the people connected to these little tidbits are where the gift is found. Where would I be without these people? By the grey wire is for the old 70 volt speakers in the lobby. My Uncle Frank installed them before I was born. That’s where the fire came from, too. It was a gentle smolder. A holy incense. I put it out.
I’ve been trying to write this thing for three weeks now. It’s still not done. I keep reminding myself… it’s just a building. Get over it. Move on. The church is still alive in a new place with another congregation, the two becoming one. Exciting days ahead.
If you want to hear the story of why my footprint is in the concrete by the old kitchen, let me know. That’s mine.
Thank you, Jesus, for a people who lived in a place for a brief but vital season in my life. Thank you for this family home, which brings back so many good memories and deep gratitude. I had no idea what was being shaped in me. The building moves on to a new purpose, and I shall do my best to continue in my purpose.
May Jesus Christ continue to bless Westland Free Methodist Church. Who knows what 10 year old kid is about to walk in to the new place.
I can hear the glass doors to the lobby entryway shutting behind me, the feel of the metal handle to ensure it’s locked.