Wedding makes me thankful for the Lambs of God
PANGBURN, Ark. — The bride didn’t make it down the…
SAVANNAH, Ga. — The unmistakable smell of paper mill mixed with salt marsh hit my nostrils as soon as I stepped out of the airport. After 22 years, I was back in Savannah.
Gen. James Oglethorpe arrived here in 1733 with 120 passengers on a ship named the Anne. They established America’s 13th colony, Georgia, named after King George II.
It was to be a place for England’s working poor to get a new start — and a buffer against Florida. (Thankfully, my Bulldogs have been able to keep the Gators at bay in recent years.)
Savannah’s original charter gave folks the freedom to worship as they pleased. Rum, lawyers and slavery were illegal — at first, anyway.
I lived here less than three years, from 1999 to 2001, but they were dog years. I came from the Athens Banner-Herald to work for the state’s best newspaper, The Savannah Morning News, covering cops and crime. I got a taste of the very worst this beautiful city had to offer.
Savannah had a then-record 42 homicides in 1999, fueled by poverty, drugs and gang life. Most were Black-on-Black crime in the public housing communities — prompting Savannah’s wealthy to shrug. Then a White tourist died in a botched robbery and a clamor arose for law and order, followed by a wave of racial tension.
With a police scanner hanging from my belt, I would hop into the black Ford Mustang of our crime photographer, Bob Morris, to get to the homicide du jour. We’d peel out of the parking lot and immediately get stuck behind a horse-drawn carriage giving tours of the old downtown.
“Hurry up, horse!” Bob would yell as I muttered, “Tourists.”
Now I was the tourist. And boy, the city sure looked different.
I walked around Forsyth Park, just like I had countless times when Dan McGregor and I lived in an apartment on East Gaston Street in the historic district. The 165-year-old fountain is still there, and the Spanish moss hangs from the majestic oaks just like it always has.
But somehow it was more beautiful, more serene than before.
The churches I visited on a busy Sunday seemed different, too. When I lived here, I was too focused on and frustrated by the lack of single females to appreciate the wonderful souls I encountered.
A rundown of my visits:
• The first smiling face I saw as I walked through the door of the Parkway Church of Christ was Wesley Coxwell, age 92. He and his wife, Bernice, were stalwarts of the congregation, two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Bernice passed away during my time with the Morning News, and I wrote a column about her unshakable faith. I didn’t realize I was preparing for a career in faith-based reporting.
Minister John Ross let me speak during Bible class and deliver the sermon. I met Andrew Jones, young adults and college minister, and learned just a bit about his faith journey. Ben Katko, a deacon and news anchor for WSAV, told me how he became part of the church. (I’m so glad they’ve still got a local media guy!) The TV station covered “The Well,” a time during worship when kids go around the auditorium and collect funds for local needs. Look for more on that in the future.
After two decades away, I was surprised by the number of people I knew — Vondean Williams, Calvin Hodges, Jon Cronin and more. And I was thrilled to see ethnic diversity in the church.
@christianchronicle SAVANNAH, Ga. — The Parkway Church of Christ’s Sunday worship #savannahgeorgia #ashieldaboutme #churchofchrist #sundayworship ♬ original sound – The Christian Chronicle
• After brother Ross treated me to an exquisite lunch of low country boil (something I’ve missed dearly since leaving Savannah) I swung by the Liberty City Church of Christ just in time to catch minister Fred Hall before he and his wife, Barbara, headed out on vacation. The church had just wrapped up its ministry fair, which was designed to give its 150 members the chance to be a part of its outreach, marriage enrichment, sick and shut-in, and senior “Pillars of Faith” ministries, to name a few.
The church is working hard to re-engage with its community after the isolation of the pandemic. The Halls are natives of Savannah and trained for ministry at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas.
• I met another former roommate, Jerome Watson, and his wife, Nicole, for coffee. We reminisced about our days in the singles ministry at Savannah Christian Church (now Compassion Christian). Six months after I moved to Oklahoma I flew back to Savannah in 2002 to be in their wedding. This was my first visit back!
• On Sunday night I attended Bible study with the Central Church of Christ. I was thrilled to see John McCain — not the late senator. This John McCain was (and still is) a never-miss-a-Sunday kind of guy.
I met Central’s new minister, Robert Ridgeway, who studied at Kentuckiana Bible College in Louisville, Ky., before the school closed in 2018. He led a discussion of “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More” by Jack Wilkie of Focus Press. The book discusses the movement of churches to an organizational structure with customers instead of congregants and plots a path for returning to discipleship and community.
Ridgeway opened with a discussion of the word “Christian” itself, which comes from a Greek term meaning “little Christ.” It was meant as a jeer, and now it’s a label we wear proudly. It was a great reminder of our purpose as a tight-knit family of faith — not a country club or consumer-driven business.
We talked about the rich young ruler from Luke 18 and how living in community for Jesus requires discomfort. “Jesus coming here was stepping out of his comfort zone,” Ridgeway said. In the same way, “risking ourselves for someone caught in sin is holy.” He challenged us to look for practical ways we can show sacrificial love to people in our lives.
I guess that sense of community was the difference in my short time living in Savannah and my short visit here. The souls I encountered 22 years ago were guides on my way toward my life’s calling in Oklahoma. That’s where I met my wife, the place where my two girls were born, the place where I became a deacon and a lover of the Lord’s church worldwide.
The Morning News gave me invaluable training in the fundamentals of reporting — and an understanding of the social ills that underly the evil we see in our world.
The Morning News gave me invaluable training in the fundamentals of reporting — and an understanding of the social ills that underly the evil we see in our world. The lessons of Savannah heavily influence my work at The Christian Chronicle.
It was a such a joy to see those deeply rooted in Savannah — and those newly planted there — as God uses them to spread his light in the darkness. I pray that they bloom and flourish under the shade of the Spanish moss.
ERIK TRYGGESTAD is President and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.
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