I've been waiting to tell this story for nearly two weeks, but now that Sunday is over, I can. As mentioned in an earlier post or two, for more than two years I have served as chair of our church's Bicentennial Celebration Steering Committee which doesn't happen until 2020. (It takes more time for some of us to get things done than others.)
Early on, we came up with a prop to help our church leadership -- mainly deacons, decision-makers, and gate-keepers -- begin to wrap their minds around two hundred years in order to grasp the significance of the occasion, determine what level of Celebration they expected, and thus would support administratively and financially. The simple prop consisted of a narrow and thin plank of plywood, sixty inches in length, well-sized for demonstration in a committee meeting room, Sunday School department, or even a deacons meeting in Fellowship Hall. Into the plank we drilled holes to place flags as we identified significant events in our almost two-century history -- a sort of visible time-line. And people seemed to "get it."
Our pastor decided the entire congregation should see the presentation and invited us to deliver it in "big church" which we did this past Sunday, some two hundred Sundays before the end of year 2020. The problem though, was our meeting room sized prop would be underwhelming in our some 1500-seat sanctuary; a serious upscale was necessary.
Last fall I mentioned to Wilburn, church Property Committee chair, that I needed a large rough-sawn timber from one of our older buildings. He said it would not be any problem, that they were preparing to renovate the fourth floor of our chapel building -- a 1927 model. They would be removing the floor down to the joists and would cut out a section of floor joist for our purposes and replace it with a new one. In a few weeks Wilburn reported back all the joists were smooth-planed and thus probably not what I had in mind. He was right! He went on to suggest that perhaps there would be something suitable toward the top of our iconic steeple that sits on the corner of 7th and Broadway and that he would talk to the renovation crew foreman about helping me scout and "acquire" it.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went -- no timber -- and knowing our presentation was slated for January 22, I was getting nervous. Not just any lift could snake into the opening at the base of the steeple, so more delay. Five days into the new year, I told Wilburn that I would come to the church "next Tuesday morning (1/10) after Bible study, meet the foreman with the lift and go up into the steeple myself" to see if there was anything we could use. Foreman Brandon met me there and hoisted me to the hatch door at the bottom of the enclosed part of the steeple.
There are three or four levels inside that structure, each accessed by a sturdy, well-preserved ladder permanently secured top and bottom. Wilburn had told me, if nothing else, Brandon could take one of those ladders apart and we could use one of the vertical stretchers as our timber. I led the way up the series of ladders to about the third level where I spotted a timber that appeared to be a vertical brace tying in the west and south walls of that 1886 structure. My tape measure three inches thick, six inches wide, eight feet long. Holy smoke, that's almost exactly what I need if we can just get it loose and get it down. Bumping it with the heel of my hand -- what? The bloomin' thing wasn't attached to anything; it was just lying there. I shouted to Brandon on the level below me -- "Found it!" I was so excited. Finally, after these many weeks, we have our timber! We are home free!
We carefully eased it down two or three flights of ladder, onto the lift, and finally to the ground. That timber was beautiful in the full light of day and just what we needed. I carried it into the sanctuary placing it on a couple of flower pedestals, adjusting the height with hymnals to ascertain how tall to build the permanent supports. I loaded it in the back of my SUV and made a couple of stops -- one to order a foot long piece of Plexiglas to match the timber's profile and another to my cabinetmaking friend to make a single carefully placed cut in one end. Sharing the punchline of my project with those two vendors, both were as excited about it as I was.
Later that afternoon our daughter Weslee called; I shared that story and my excitement about finally having located suitable timber for our presentation. Her immediate response was "that thing was just up there waiting for you, Dad! God was saying 'I've got this!" Her comment stopped me in my tracks. In all my excitement finding, extricating, measuring, sizing, and running around, the thought that God's hand could have been a part of this provision never even crossed my mind. I'm not ready to say that God placed that rough-sawn timber high in that tower and has protected it since 1886 until this day and for this purpose, nor am I ready to say that He didn't. It will always be a mystery and I'm okay with that. Maybe I'll remember to ask Him about it when I get there.
Here's a hymn about far weightier matters than an eight-foot rough-sawn timber in a historic church steeple, but it does express God's care and provision for us in all of life and beyond. It is based on Psalm 23.
The King of love my Shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
and He is mine forever.
Where streams of living water flows,
my ransomed soul He leadeth,
and, where the verdant pastures grow,
with food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love He sought me,
and on His shoulders gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.
In death's dark vale I fear no ill
with Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never:
good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
within Thy house forever.
Words -- Henry W. Baker, 1868
If you care to see how we used the timber, see the photo or video below.