My Soul Looks Back in Wonder
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Psalm 103:1
Lenten Season is a time that I use to reflect on how I arrived at where I am, not just my physical location, but my spiritual and emotional location as well. In seminary we were asked to tell the story of what led us into ministry, this story was our call narrative. Many of us had a time in our lives when we felt the strong pull of God that led us to walk down the aisle and give our heart to God and our hand to the pastor. The people, opportunities, teachings that led to our walk down the aisle is our call narrative. For some of us that led to a call to ordained ministry; for others your call led them you to serve in other ways. My return to Houston and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church makes me pause, “look back in wonder” and remember Wheeler’s major role in my call narrative.
I returned to Houston last year after being away for 25 years. My daughter was born here, I have good friends here, and I became a spiritual adult here. The most significant event of my first time living in Houston was becoming a practicing Christian through the teachings of Rev. William A. Lawson, Audrey Lawson, Rev. Lola Nelson and the fellowship of members of Wheeler . (I must say I have to express gratitude for the significance of my daughter’s birth, too!!) My spiritual journey matured at Wheeler.
In the Bible Study Rev Lawson led I heard the word of God taught, interpreted, and made real for my life as a young 20-something. He taught us how to use Bible tools: a concordance, a parallel Bible and Biblical maps. We listened to Scripture read from different translations and learned to listen for the slight shades of meaning. I soaked it all in. Though I grew up in the church, Missouri Synod Lutheran, I had never had a Pastor teach the Bible in a way that connected it to my life. He did not ignore the young adults. The young adults would gather after his sermons and discuss what he meant—after we looked up some of the words! He made his lessons real and relevant to the lives we led.
Mrs. Lawson started our young adults ministry. She made space and place for us in the church by starting the Singles Group. Today, it is common to revere youth and give youth leadership roles. However, during that time in many congregations, the leaders of the church were older males. However, the 20-something Singles group at that time had many church leaders among its members. We were invited to teach, lead, and speak up on everything. I learned that my social life mattered to my church—in fact, my whole self was included.
Rev. Lola Nelson. I pause for a moment of reflection when I say her name because she was the first woman I had ever seen preach from a pulpit in a real church. As I said I grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran, which still does not ordain women. Not only was Rev. Nelson an excellent preacher, a charismatic evangelist, and a spiritual leader, but she was also a woman who believed in nurturing young women and men. She would gather some of us at her home which had a chapel connected and we would have Bible study as well as listen to her call narrative. I learned that I too could be a spiritual leader, a pulpit preacher because she was my model for a woman in the ministry. Let me also say, Rev. Nelson was always sharp. She was not a plain Jane woman preacher. She wore her heels, make-up, and chic outfits as she drove around in her Benz. She served the Lord and did not mind looking like the Lord blessed her for it. 🙂
Wheeler Ave then, as now, was a welcoming, hospitable space. Mr. Clyde O. Jackson, who was the church musician, ( there was a Clyde B. Jackson who was a dentist) invited me to Wheeler by saying, “You must come very early or you will not get a seat!” Over 30 years later, that has not changed either.
I am blessed to have found spiritual leaders and a loving and welcoming church home in my 20’s because I was influenced very early to develop my relationship with Jesus by building relationships at my church. It wasn’t hard. The church ran to meet me with outstretched arms. That was how I got over then and how I keep going now.
Prayer: Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me. Forget not all his benefits. I thank you that I can look back over 30 years ago and know you are the same today as you were then. Amen.