What Happened Last Sunday

1676896-Walking-in-the-Rain-0When I got back from my daughter’s college graduation last Sunday night I found a message in my inbox hinting that “something” had happened during the 11:00 worship service at Richmond’s First Baptist Church that day, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I found out what it was.  Joyce, my secretary, told me that one of our homeless neighbors had come down the aisle in the middle of the service demanding to know why “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well with My Soul” weren’t in our hymnbook.  He said that he was “a miracle of God,” and wanted to share his testimony.

As I heard the story at staff meeting on Tuesday I learned that Bob Palmer, who was standing at the pulpit when the man came forward, told him very graciously that if he would just have a seat someone would be glad to help him out after the service.  Ralph Starling stepped forward to intervene, but was greeted by a threatening gesture that forced him to consider another approach.  Eventually an off-duty Henrico police officer, who was visiting the church, escorted the man out of the building, but by that time the spirit of worship had been badly broken.  Phil Mitchell stepped to the pulpit afterward and prayed that our scattered thoughts might return to the Lord, and at the close of the service Ralph Starling suggested that in our prayers that week we might offer a prayer for this man, who certainly needed it.

As the story unfolded I realized that the man who had disrupted the service was Daniel, one of our regulars at community missions and someone who has been featured on this blog.  He is still recovering from surgery to remove a life-threatening brain tumor, and most of the time he is gentle and thoughtful and kind.  Knowing him as I do I could almost see him standing there with his hymnbook, wanting to share his testimony and sing a hymn.  And church is a good place for that kind of thing, isn’t it?  If I had been there I might have let him do it. 

But, then again, maybe not. 

He wasn’t entirely sober at the time.  He was loud and belligerent.  He frightened a good many people in the congregation who didn’t know him, and who worried that he might have a gun.  We can thank God for church members and staff who remained calm in that moment.  We can thank God that there was an off-duty police officer to escort him out of the building.  And we can thank God for those who brought us back into His presence through prayer and reminded us to pray for this man. 

Daniel stopped by the church yesterday between services to apologize.  I could tell he had practiced his speech.  He said, “I am truly and humbly and sincerely sorry for what happened last Sunday. ”  I accepted his apology and then asked him what had happened.  I wanted to hear his side of the story.  He said,  “I just wanted to sing that hymn, but I couldn’t find it in the book.”  And so we took a hymbook out of one of the pew racks and looked for “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well with My Soul.”  As you might guess, they were both in there.  He seemed comforted by that, and thanked me for showing him.  I asked him if he had been drinking and he confessed that he had:  “Just a little to stop the shakes.”  “Well, I’ll need to ask you to leave then,” I said.  He nodded and said,  “I know.”  I showed him to the door and he apologized once more before stepping out into the rain. 

The staff is working to put together a security plan that will help our congregation feel safe in the sanctuary because things might have turned out differently than they did and it might have been someone other than Daniel.  We don’t want anyone to be afraid to come to church.  I am reminded that the word sanctuary means, literally, “a safe place.”  But I’m grateful that this Sunday it turned out to be a safe place for Daniel, a place where he could confess his sin and ask for forgiveness.  He made a mistake and he knew it.  He promised it wouldn’t happen again.  He was so full of genuine remorse that I felt myself moved with pity and heard myself saying, “I love you, Daniel.”  Tears welled up in his eyes and he said, “I love you, too.”

And then I kicked him out.

Love has a tough side, and I’m sure Daniel knows that, but as he walked down the sidewalk in the rain I could almost hear him humming the tune he had come to church to sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

16 thoughts on “What Happened Last Sunday

  1. Thank you so much for addressing this event. My mother and I were in the service, and were sitting about 5 pews in front of him and had heard him caring on from the time he came in. Before the service as my mother and I were driving on boulevard to Church, Daniel had jumped out in front of our car, had my mom not swerved she would have hit him. We thank the Lord he did not have ill intentions or caring a weapon, but I tell you sitting there in the pew not knowing was terrifying. In the one place you are supposed to feel safe, I felt trapped. I kept praying to take the fears away, but it was tough. In the “anti church” world we are living in, it would be very reassuring to know that our church does have security measures in place to address these issues. Would it be possible to discuss this in Church sometime? I am sure if I have these fears and concerns I am sure others do too. I absolutely adore First Baptist and love being a member there, and I hate to say that fear over took me and I ended up not going to Church yesterday in fear that man would come back. I feel much better now knowing the full story…thank you so much for finding out the whole story and doing something about it. Thanks again!

  2. Jim,

    An astonishing story! Reminds me of a paraphrase of Luke 19:10 written by one of my REL students:

    ‘[Jesus came] to find and to fix that which was broken . . .’

    Looks like sometimes that gets pretty complicated! The ‘finding’ is apparently easier than the ‘fixing’ . . . Many churches aren’t really concerned with either–sounds like FBC Richmond is!

  3. I was not there but have heard several tellings. I am glad that you got the other side if the story. I think you handled this very well – we want to be safe but we also want to be a church that reaches a hand to everyone – and that means everyone. WWJD???

  4. Prayer! This made me realize more and more the importance of our need to pray for God’s church, for your protection that God will go before you, stand beside you, be behind you and cover you as you lead us at FBC. This prayer I am praying for all of the staff as well as you put yourself in the line of duty for Him. We also need to pray this for our entire congregation as we take up our cross daily to follow His commands.

  5. I was sitting in church with a friend on that Sunday, and during the first part of the service we heard a man yell from the back of the church as if he were calling to someone across a ball field. My friend and I looked at each other in surprise and were wondering, “What/who was that?” The service continued for several more minutes and then it started again, and this time the man proceeded down the right aisle of the church, with his arm extended upwards with what appeared to be, a Bible in his hand. It was hard to understand everything as he was shouting (something about “witnessing a miracle” and “surgery” . . . ) but from what I could hear and understand, my immediate thoughts were, “If you believe everything you are saying, then why are you being so rude and interrupting this church service?” I caught myself judging him, and realized that this man could not be thinking rationally, so I stopped myself midstream. I bowed my head and said a brief prayer for him. Once again, I had to remind myself of the words in Matthew 7:5, “. . . First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

    Speaking for myself, this experience was somewhat like being in a car accident, with that feeling of total surprise, shock, disbelief, and the slow motion thing, and when it was over, it took some mental digesting – for several hours afterwards.

    I found it extremely helpful that you addressed this “happening” in your blog because it gave us a better understanding of this man’s physical and spiritual challenges (as well as the need to address my own spiritual challenges!). Many thanks, and blessings to you, Jim.

  6. So what about DANIEL>>>>>

    Maybe we should have someone keep special contact with this member of our family.

    I had a talk with Roberta last week about spritual/emotional care to members of the church family.
    I think that’s a basic element of a “missional” church”

    His diagnostic catagory doesn’t sound like it fits her background but he does fit mine.


  7. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as welcoming and forgiving people and believe that the doors are open for everyone. And yet, we can put such restrictions on them. Thank goodness that someone realized that what was most needed in that moment were prayers for Daniel. We as a society look first with fear and then later we try to justify that fear when I believe we should look first with compassion and prayer and trust in God that there in no reason for fear but understanding and a helping hand. Daniel appears to be a very sick person, both physically and spiritually, and was possibly looking for a safe place for himself. Even though he went about it in an inappropriate wayI hope that someone like Ken, with God’s guidance, can provide some help to Daniel. You handled the situation with the caring and understanding that I have come to expect from you. May God continue to bless you and guide you.

  8. Recovery is in the air. The scene of Daniel coming to Pastor Jim’s office to express regret is one of compassion and spiritual healing on behalf of the preacher, and bravery and sorrow with Daniel. The compassion and listening given to Daniel in those few moments between services is an example of offering recovery, the deliberate work to return to normalcy.

    Recovery is gradual healing, a vision, a productive outlook, following positive priciples. It is process, not perfection. Does it include regaining something lost? Oh, yes. It means retrieval, restoration, recapture, redemption. Daniel’s simplistic outlook on apologies in a complicated world is startling, and staying on the path to full recovery is far from easy. One must not give up.

    God go with you, Daniel. Keep trying, keep up the struggle.

    In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is written: “When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day. When I focus on what’s bad, I have a bad day. If I focus on the problem, the problem increases. If I focus on the answer, the answer increases. ”

    In the usual scheme of life, our internal condition changes our external. We experience wholeness, we seek spirituality, we seek God. External conditions changing the internal leads to what once were distractions becoming addictions: we lose control, we move away from healing.

    Thomas Edison said,”…The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

    Keep trying, Daniel. We are all on a journey, we all are struggling. Aren’t we all recovering from something?

  9. Okay, so I’ve put off writing a response now for a couple of weeks, but I still have this situation with Daniel eating at me as to the way it was handled so I felt I needed to express my opinion on this.

    In your blog you state that Daniel came to you with genuine remorse regarding the previous Sunday. Under the circumstances, I was shocked when you stated that you “kicked him out” with not so much as sharing a prayer with him or engaging in some type of dialouge with him as to his situation and obvious substance addiction. This was a man who was “no stranger” to you or the church who obviosly is searching for refuge in a place that he is familiar with. Don’t get me wrong, scaring people of the congregation the Sunday before was unsettling and concerning, but the fact is that he thought enough about it to return to you specifically to apologize.

    Is this the First Baptist that has been a long time participant in Caritas, Grace Fellowship and the Community Clothes Closet for so many years? Is this the same Church that in one of your previous blogs you stated “we are on a mission trip right now. The bus is riding through Richmond and having eaten, and said our prayers , it’s time to get off the bus and get to work”?

    I have recently heard that First Baptist is going to “reach out” to the surrounding community with an attitude of missions to the neighborhood. If you are planning to only reach out to the clean and sober people in the immediate surrounding neighborhood of the church, you may find that you have a very difficult task in front of you.

    This opportunity with Daniel was so easy . You didn’t have to leave the church and go into the neighborhood (in the rain) to find this man, and you already knew the guy from previous encounters, and he had come to you!

    All this being said, Daniel was offered nothing but “tough love” and a page number for two hymns. This guy was reaching out with apology obviously seeking something more than being turned away.

    Maybe a prayer would have been more comforting to this man rather than sending him out the door into the rain.

    A previous response on the blog was WWJD? I don’t think this is the answer.

  10. Steve: Thanks for keeping Daniel in your heart and in your head. I appreciate your concern, but I really don’t think Daniel feels unloved or unwelcome at FBC. He had been drinking on the Sunday morning I “kicked him out.” He knew he had to go. But he did not go without asking for an apology and getting one, or without being reassured that he was loved. I would guess that’s more “church” than some people get on Sunday even when they stay for the whole service.

    Thanks for writing,


  11. Thank you Jim for giving insight on this situation. Daniel seems to have a real problem but since he came to visit you he meant no harm. He needed to feel loved and cared for. Tossing a drunk into the rain sounds very awkward to me. I come from a religious background and even my Dad would give a drunk man 2 cups of coffee in the middle of the night- it would sober him up and then Dad would read scripture to him and witness to him. My Dad wasn’t a preacher but he felt deeply for people who were in trouble. He even gave away free food and coffee to those in trouble. I’m so glad to hear the rest of the story. We do have to be careful who enters our safe haven but if we die it would be for a good cause. I do believe in Security but even Jesus met with all kinds of people. Being drunk is sin in my opinion but I’m not perfect. You could have prayed with him before he left. Daniel needed to feel redeemed for his confession. He needed prayer to uplift him in private with you. That’s how people repent.

  12. im andrew and i deciced to listen to the bible just months ago.what grabbed my attention was the heaven gods home and jesus blessings.im came acrosse4d cool stuff.i hope other reader like me read the bible.i even know now that im a christion plus im am sleepy.i written and made notes on the bible a minute and days ago.i am a bigginer please help me contionue.

  13. im andrew agian not only im an belever i can now answer youre questions about genesis and the bible and our god.i hope you can read and understand my comments better.

  14. im listning now im okay with that and im gonna start off by having a better understanding of the bible was you read it once it becomes cooler.

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