The little white clapboard church stood unassumingly in the shadow of the tall pine trees. You could drive right by and miss it. That little church held the most precious memories of the people who loved God and made me feel like family. Every summer my sister Julie and I would make the plane trip up to Washington state to spend time with our mom on a farm in Graham. The farm once belonged to my great grandmother. It was bought by the neighbor Larry Doeskin. In a strange twist of fate, my mom met Larry while he was on layover driving a rig in California. She was newly divorced working as a teller in a bank that he happened to stop at. They connected instantly and became married within a year. My mom moved into her childhood house, now owned by her new husband. So as kids we got to roam around the woods and cow pasture every day picking dandelions and playing with the kittens. On Sunday it was Church time! Mom got all pretty in the tiny pink bathroom. I remember lots of Aqua Net and big hair. Us girls piled into the Chevy and made our entrance as the Snow girls from California; our last name was Snow.
Once we got to the little church in the woods time stood still. The white church looked like it wouldn't hold more than a few people. There was the crackle of tires coming to a stop on a dirt gravel parking area. We entered holding hands my sister and I. Mom introduced us as her girls Julie age 8 Andrea age 10. Everyone was smiling! And everyone had big hair! In inhaled the aroma of coffee brewing in a large urn in the kitchen while saying hi politely to all who extended their welcome. More often we got big hugs and that is what I loved the most. The first person I remember was Sally Fields. She towered over me with the hugest smile and brightest laugh I had ever seen on a person. I asked her if she would like to see me tap dance. As I showed off my tapping skills in my new patent leather shoes her grin got bigger and bigger. She was genuinely interested in me! That was a shock because we were brought up to be quiet around adults. Sally Fields really wanted to get to know me. That was nice.
The organ started up and a hush filled the entry as people stilled conversations and filed into the seats in the sanctuary that were actually old movie seats complete with worn red velvet cushions. The sanctuary smelled like lemon oil and ladies perfume. Candice Carolson the pastor's wife pumped out What a Friend We Have In Jesus which progressed into a lively This Is The Day That The Lord Hath Made. Infact that became what I call The Graham Assembly March. We sang This Is The Day as the first song every Sunday for 15 years! Everyone was clapping and having a great time. This was very different from the church I went to with my grandma in Los Angeles with its stained glass and silent pews and large hymnals and a lofty choir. No this was real! This was meeting God!. Then the organ would die down and Steve Couch picked up on the piano with a softer sweeter melody of quiet worship. Songs like Emmanuel, Our God Reigns. and Jesus Is The Sweetest Name I Know lifted the congregation to His throne. The pastor or assistant pastor Dave Rassmusen would take over in booming bass All Hail King Jesus All Hail Emanuel!. Then to my surprise there would be a "word of knowledge " Random people chosen by God would stand up and deliver a word of encouragement or chastisement to the church. As a kid I didn't know what to make of this even after my mom explained it to me it still remained a great God mystery. Over all this was a freedom and a breath of fresh air that I had not felt while living in California. The sheer white curtains would move softly in the breezes of the open window that mirrored the Breath of the Holy Spirit when His presence filled the sanctuary. And Let The Temple Be Filled With His Glory and Let The Courts Be Filled With His Praise and Let Us Worship the Lord in the Holy of Holies Zion Rejoices Again. Another song comes to mind; In Moments Like These...I sing out a song I sing out a love song to Jesus....singing I love you Lord... Mom was a great singer and I loved listening to her harmonizing with the
music. Sometimes the songs would touch her and make her weep. Mascara
would run down her cheeks as she cried happy tears. We all waited on the Holy Spirit to do His work. Waiting on Jesus. It was so peaceful.
Next came the collection plate and then the pastor would stand up to preach. A good sermon always had a lot "and the LORD sayeth!" I liked doodling on the bulletins while my mom listened along with her Bible on her lap highlighting all the good scriptures. Once in while she would slip us some gum if we got restless.
The family of God: I'm so glad to be a part of the family of God. I've been washed in the fountain cleansed by His Blood. Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel along. I'm a part of the family; the family of God. During meet and greet everyone shook hands or hugged with a good "God Bless you" I tugged on mom's arm "who is that?" Mom said "that is Sister Booth" I had heard of sisters in the Catholic religion but I had never heard of one in the Christian churches. Mom went on to explain that "That is how we address our elders here. Sister Booth is one of the oldest members of our church. She walks 5 miles to get here every Sunday. She has her own farm and milks her own cows. " Sister Booth smelled of moth balls on her old woolen coat and tennis shoes. Wow I thought She wears sneakers to church. Of course that makes sense if she walks to church. Some people offered her rides but most of the time she declined with a wave of her tiny hand. Greeting Sister Booth was like greeting a saint in heaven. Her eyes glistened and her countinence radiated the peace of God. If we asked how she was doing she just replied "I'm fine and Jesus just gets sweeter and sweeter" That was an odd answer to me. How does the person Jesus get sweeter? Can we taste Jesus? Food for thought in my 10 year old mind. But I did make it a point to say hello to her on the Sundays she was there. On the Sundays she was not there. the pastor would lift up a verbal prayer "For our Dear Sister Booth"
Sing-Spiration! One Sunday every summer was dedicated to sing-spiration. The whole Sunday night was to give praise to God through our talents. The pastor led us with his trumpet. Many trios and duets belted out old gospel hymns. When the roll is called up yonder. The sweet by and by, and Oh Happy Days. The pastor's wife always took this opportunity to pound out her special rendition of If It Wasn't For The Lighthouse Where Would This Old Ship Be. But by far the best kept secret was Martha Couch. She was a humble lady who prefered to stay in the background She loved to keep the church clean from top to bottom and usually sat in the back. She always had a praise report for my mom "Oh and you know what the Lord did for me today Gloria?!" I got privaledged to many of these praise reports since my mom liked to hang around until the doors were closed. Anyway on these special Sunday nights, there was a hush as Martha quietly unpacked her violin... Soft strains of Amazing Grace filled the room until there was no dry eye. The finale was Martha's violin vibrating The Old Rugged Cross...where at last my burdens lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown. Some times we would be called to kneel and pray after this song Sometimes there would be Communion..And sometimes we would just leave in a reverent hush back to our cars...
Fast forward 5 years. My sister and I still enjoy the blessing of being with our mom during the summer in Washington and at Graham Assembly of God. There is a new pastor in town. He is short with white blond hair and fast mind. He is quickly nicknamed The Fireball!. Pastor John Waring. There is a new wave of the Spirit with the heart of the Lord for young people. And Julie and I just happened to be young and ride that wave!. My years in school were hard on me; but again Graham Church provided a refuge from the storms of emotional hurts. My church family embraced us. We got the royal welcome as the Snow Girls which lasted about 3 weeks of extra hugs and special visits to catch up on the years. And...there were some new faces in the congregation...hot dog some nice looking young folks to mingle with!. The Vanderhoff clan had 2 boys that became our best friends and my first crush. The Ford family had handsome young buck along with someone else who was disabled. The pastor jumped in; reaching out where ever he could. He turned the church around literally. What used to be the entrance was blocked off. An alter was built with 3 steps and light blue carpet with a kneeling rail. The best thing was that he installed a wooden ramp for our friend Chris to roll right on into church. This pastor cared and had big dreams. Plans were quickly drawn up to build a new church just down the road facing beautiful Mr Rainier. He was excited, the kids were excited and we were moving and grooving in the Holy Ghost! It was still This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made and we still Entered His Gates With Thanksgiving in Our Hearts and Into His Courts With Praise, but there was a lot more zeal and zest to our entry!. During worship the praise and the room got hotter!. Literally the sanctuary got HOT with the presence of the Lord! All the men would be perspiring and wiping their brow with their hands lifted high to God. These same gentlemen had to be catchers for ladies going down on the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit. Mom was always one of the first to go down. I never went forward because I had a secret fear of falling even though I knew I was safe in Jesus and these kind men, I just couldn't take the step forward. So I watched and prayed with my hands and eyes open. We praised God with wonderful new songs such as Pastor Jack Hayford's Majesty and As The Deer Panteth For The Water So My Soul Longeth After Thee, ending with unending rounds of I Exalt Thee. It was as if God took His cue from that song. His presence filled the room and people began speaking in tongues and falling under His awesome power. I still did not understand all the gifts and working of things like speaking in tongues but it was a lot more peaceful and powerful than before. Every summer the youth got to go to Camp Cedar Springs for Christian renewal. When they came back they were on fire. They sat in the front row and the pastor had long prayer sessions just for us. I got to go to camp one year. It was good. But church was better.
The next summer the whole church had moved into the new church building. It was great but incomplete. We met in the rec room with plans for the main sanctuary hanging on the walls. I often wondered why our pastor did not start with the main sanctuary as I believed that was where we met God. Of course God can meet us anywhere. And meet us he did.. I never saw the new sanctuary. There was never enough funds to build it. I often walked out in the field where it would have been according to the drawings. I would shed a tear because the cathedral style windows were to face Mt Rainier where we could see it's majesty and God's majesty at the same time. I would walk in circles singing praise songs over and over in that vacant spot.
Over the next 3 years we continued to meet in the new church building. I was 19 when I finally had my first personal encounter with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pastor John had left and a new pastor was installed. Pastor Stump took over with a little more "old school" preaching. His favorite passages were about heaven. Which happened to be my favorite scriptures too. We sang songs like When the Roll is Called Up Yonder again and The sweet By and By Pastor Stump often mentioned Bullah land. During this time a special minister from Africa was conducting meetings in various houses and churches in the area. I got touched by the Lord when he was ministering to someone who was filled with demonic influences. The ladies pushed me back to the back of the church and said "PRAY" I reached out in faith while we sang There is Power in the Blood and Oh the Blood of Jesus. I began praying in a different language. Then I started laughing until I was full of the Joy of the Lord! The person got delivered, saved, and baptized that night and gave a wonderful testimony to Jesus saving grace. I got baptized in the Holy Ghost! Back church I was almost uncontainable in my zeal for God every mention of His name made me want to laugh and hug everyone. This was my church my God my Jesus and my family in God.
Pastor Stump has since gone on to meet Jesus in heaven.
Jesus launched me into service and sent me to Hawaii to take care of my grandmother. I went to many other churches in my lifetime. I have a church family back here in California now. But I will always have my heart in the little church in Graham Washington. amen