I stood in the back of the church, begging my eyes to memorize the way the paneling looked and my nose to memorize the deep smell of chestnut wood.
It was September 2009. In less than a week, the building would be completely torn down. the building: My home church.
I called It home
When the church was first built over 125 years ago, my family was among the founders. The original church building sat about 3 miles up the road from where my family’s homeplace is. I have often heard stories that my great-grandmother helped raise money from selling fresh baked goods to start the very first Sunday School program there.
I can first remember visiting the church in July 1989. My dad tells me that he took me there on several occasions as a young child, none of which can I remember.
It was there I first experienced a church young group, and had some important milestones in my faith journey. And that it why I called it home- still do though it is not the church in which I was actually saved in 2011.
The burial of the old church
The building that I grew up knowing and loving was the second building that the church was ever housed in. Over it’s nearly 100 years of standing in the valley, it had become heavily damaged by black mold and age. It had not been structurally sound for full time services in over three years in 2009, and the last youth service had been held in it a year prior. It had well lived it’s time, and needed to be torn down.
My dad and I stepped into the church for what would be our last walk through. I ran my hands across the panels, and wept as I looked stood in the empty sanctuary.
As we stood there, the Pastor said to Daddy and I “If there is anything left that you would like to have, you are welcome to it”. Dad’s eyes went immediately to a slightly damaged copy of the church covenant.
I wondered the tiny classrooms, not expecting to find anything to take home.
Three little child-sized chairs sat in the remains of one of the classrooms. I pointed to one with a cracked seat and asked the Pastor “May I have that?”. He said yes.
I loaded the chair up in my jeep that day, not knowing where or how I would ever use it. Perhaps for decor, I thought. It was a rough little chair, and it had well long since lost its time for being a useful chair.
The chair would travel with me just 2 years later over 30 miles, and then again another 30 miles in 2014. It had served as sort of a display chair for my Muppets collection that I once had.
In 2014, I placed it in the corner of my bedroom and just wept. The chair was a reminder of just how much I had failed the Biblical teachings that I had been raised in, lessons that I had even learned in my home church.
I spoke to my dad a few days after placing the empty chair in a corner, and mentioned in during the conversation.
“Why don’t you make that your family alter, little one? You can list your prayers on the wall beside it, and sit beside it to pray, or read your Bible.”
And that was exactly what I did.
Remembering A Different Chair
I can remember in my 20s hearing a little analogy about a man using a chair for prayer. It goes:
“All of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head..”
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, ‘I’ll be with you always.’ Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.”
“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, and returned to the church.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor that her daddy had died that afternoon.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.
“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, in fact, beyond strange-kinda weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”
(Source: The Empty Chair)
I’ve thought about that sometimes, when I have laid my head on that chair crying out to My Heavenly Father.
What about you- do you have a special place in your home as your prayer room/alter?