Richmond Grace Church in Richmond, Virginia was the place to be last weekend. I was thrilled just to be in the room. It was a regional conference of the World Wide Church of God, although everyone was welcome, and it was beautiful and fun and full of life. In the basement of a Masonic Temple, where Richmond Grace meets every Sunday, people of all colors and from all walks of life gathered for a festival of friendship, truth, music and dance in the embrace of the blessed Trinity.
Two things amaze me about the World Wide Church of God, and this gathering proved them once again. First, this Church has opened its soul to the Father, Son and Spirit. I have never seen such hunger and openness in the United States. Second, this Church is integrated. Here we were in Richmond, Virginia of all places, and the room was full of different races, gathered in the name of the One who ends all racism, and every other “ism.” Don’t get me wrong, this was not one of those meetings where the white folks are willing to let the colored folks in or vice versa. This was the body of Christ, and it was beautiful. No shame. No division. No separation. Light, life and love—smiles everywhere. So before the conference even began the Holy Spirit was on a roll. For me, pastor Bill Winn and his wife Davina embody the joy of it all. Bill is a theologian in an evangelist’s body, with no 'off switch,' and Davina is the beautiful calm that creates a welcome space. And Tim Brassell (another local pastor) and his wife Donna are a tag team of beaming grace and truth, and not a little fire. You not only felt welcome, you felt wanted—at home. Add to all of this the stunning music of Vanessa Kersting, from Adelaide, Australia, and the room is fully pumped (the Aussies are ubiquitous).
William P. (Paul) Young was introduced and began to share his story—and what a story it is. Here is a man who has been through hell sideways, several times, and he is not bashful about sharing the dark and sad parts. He is a man baptized with the unearthly assurance of Papa’s love, and you don’t get such a baptism without facing yourself. When I met Paul in the airport on Wednesday afternoon, I knew he was my brother from another mother. He is not a tall man, but his heart is as big as Western Australia. He is Papa with a Donald Sutherland grin. He sounds a little like Kevin Costner and sometimes like Tom Hanks, but mostly he is a little boy with twinkling eyes that say, “you have no idea how good Papa is, but you are about too.” I suspect he goes to sleep grinning.
Underneath The Shack, which by now must be around #1 on the best seller list in the USA, or should be, is a tale of abuse and pain, religion and pretense, striving, hurt and betrayal—and an ocean of grace. From 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon on Friday, April, 18th we sat spellbound by a brutally honest and utterly free man as he shared his life of trauma and of the Father’s unending love. If you were awake, you were moved. There were deep tears and cleansing laughter as old wounds were touched and healed, and we began to believe that the gospel is true, that Papa is good, that Jesus has saved us, and that Sarayu is free to meet us anywhere. Paul is a living example of two of his favorite statements. “Freedom is an incremental process. “Its all about timing, just not ours, but Papa’s.”
What spoke most deeply to me is the way Paul personifies the Father’s love and acceptance of us as we really are. In one of my teaching sessions the next day, I quoted Papa from The Shack. “Take it easy on those greens, young man. Those things can give you the trots if you ain’t careful” (p. 121). I have read a lot of theology, but that statement has to be one of the finest theological statements ever written. The Lord is not ashamed of, or put off by, or embarrassed by our humanity. He loves us as we are. He meets us where we are. And as we let Him love us through Jesus, all our broken parts begin to be bathed with Papa’s love, and in Sarayu’s time and soul-gardening grace we become like Papa.
Vanessa’s song, “For All the Times” (I predict it will be a #1 song) flows right out of Papa’s love.
For All the Times
©Vanessa Kersting, 2007
for all the times you don’t get told
hear Me say I love you
for all the times you don’t feel beautiful
hear Me say you’re beautiful
o so wonderful
(chorus) this is not who you are
this is who you are
you’re Mine you’re Mine
for all the times you feel alone
hear me say I love you
for all the times you were told
that no one would care
feel My heart beat for you
for all the times you don’t feel good enough
hear Me say you’re worth more
than you know
for all the times it gets too much
feel My arms hold you
It fell to me to follow Paul and Vanessa, and also a wonderful local dance team, but it was the easiest thing I have ever done. I was home, and I was with brothers and sisters, and they were hungry, and it was as beautiful as it was fun. In the words of Ken Blue, “Thank you, Holy Spirit, we will have more please.”
And at the very end on Sunday afternoon, Jeff McSwain (another one of J. B. Torrance’s spiritual children) dropped in for a visit. I couldn’t help but grin like Paul.
And yes, it was recorded, and will be available in audio and video soon.