When I arrived at the local Baptist association meeting, I parked on the lower level of the lot. As I was walking toward the building, I noticed several parking spaces near the door labeled "elderly."
The simple beauty of imprisoned women praising God by playing handbells caused me to weep, McKown says.
I thought this was very considerate, but, of course, all around me elderly folks were not parking in those spaces. They were walking up from the lower level with me.
This is a classic move by the "Greatest Generation" – always thinking of others, always assuming someone else could use help first. We have so much to learn.
I am embarrassed to admit this, but I was not looking forward to the afternoon and I took a seat in the back row.
I was tired and not in the mood for an extended meeting. I share my initial hesitation because it was – hands down – the best association meeting I have attended.
The moderator conducted business at the beginning and ended in a timely fashion, and the lion's share of our time was spent in worship. Both speakers were exceptional.
The first speaker was chaplain of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. I wish you could have heard Julie speak. Her frank yet compassionate words about the prisoners to whom she ministers were inspiring.
She works in the prison every day and organizes worship services on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening. Worship attendance averages between 150 and 250.
"The gym is transformed into a sanctuary," she said, her words painting a picture so clear it was like we were there.
Julie has organized a worship leadership team of inmates. There is a choir, praise dance team and two handbell groups.
I loved playing handbells as a girl. The simple beauty of imprisoned women praising God by playing handbells caused me to weep.
So, there I was tearing up at an association meeting on a Sunday afternoon because God's love is that surprising and beautiful.
Julie said the women come hungry for the Word, and God shows up at the prison. It was inspiring as she told us "in the midst of this hellhole, God is alive and well." Thanks be to God!
The second speaker was Dean Miller, who works at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and gave an excellent presentation on More Than Nets.
I was impressed by the project's holistic approach, which not only provides mosquito nets to protect Ghanaians from malaria but also provides education and funding for church planting.
Hundreds of churches have already been planted by sisters and brothers in Ghana. Physical needs are being met and the gospel is being preached. I hope the church I pastor and others will pray about joining in this mission.
We closed worship with communion. It was special to receive the elements from clergy pals, some of whom I study the Bible with every Wednesday.
As soon as the benediction was offered, I couldn't help but blurt out, "That was amazing!" because it was. It really was.
I was preparing to leave when, lo and behold, a room of snacks was announced. It was icing on the literal cake.
They even had the good cheese, God bless them! One of my clergy pals whispered, "If we play our cards right, this could be dinner."
For about 12,000 reasons, it was a great day to be at a Baptist association meeting, as people lingered and enjoyed one another's company for a long time.
Katie McKown is the pastor of Scottsville Baptist Church in Scottsville, Va. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Hermeneutics in High Heels, and is used with permission.