Berryville United Methodist Church
During the 1960s, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer's religion page wrote a review of the church service he attended that week. His aim was to give newcomers a sort of heads up or guide to follow if they were looking for a church home. The reviews were about the service's music, the quality, subject, and tone of the pastor's sermon, the overall "feel" or ambiance of the church, and the friendliness or lack therein of the members toward newcomers.
It was a popular and apparently useful column, and I've decided to emulate it from time to time for the same reasons. Last week I visited the Berryville United Methodist Church at 400 Eureka Avenue, located across the street from the Price Cutter Grocery Store.
The Governing Board of the United Methodist Church seems to have established architectural standards that local churches routinely follow. Consequently, Methodist church buildings constructed after World War Two look pretty much the same, and the Berryville church is no exception to the rule. This isn't a bad thing; the local church is comfortable if utilitarian, the sanctuary is attractive, and members and visitors are able to move comfortably throughout the building. Visitors will find a practical if plain building that is pretty and friendly inside.
The pastor of the Berryville United Methodist Church is Dr. Floyd Ray, a relative newcomer to the congregation. Dr. Floyd, who has spent most of his career leading Assembles of God congregations, works on a part-time basis for the church--Friday through Tuesday--and lives in Green Briar, Arkansas, near Conway. There are significant differences between most Assemblies churches and most Methodist churches, at least in terms of emphasis on social justice issues, but a few members I talked with said they enjoyed having Dr. Floyd with them. Unfortunately, he was on retreat the Sunday I visited so I wasn't able to hear him preach.
Instead, member Beverly Taylor presided and gave a sermon titled "Jesus--No Pain, No Gain" which emphasized both the mystery of why there is pain in the world and how one can approach its presence in our lives.
Taylor preached that God always wants us--and expects us--to be faithful to Him, no matter how severe are our trials. "Be still, and know I Am God," she quoted. And: "God does not abandon us; He assures us that someone will always be there for the faithful person. If you have no trials, you don't need God, and you won't know God. How would we know God without our trials?"
The riddle of why a loving God allows suffering in a world He created, is one that remains puzzling for many Christians, and non-Christians alike. Taylor's engagement of the problem was both practical and helpful, and seemed to be informed by C.S. Lewis's explanation in his book A Grief Observed.
Broadly speaking, Taylor's sermon emphasized that pain is not incompatible with God's Goodness because it can be seen as God's way of accommodating the freedom of an often rebellious creature (man). In a stable and meaningful universe, the possibility of pain is necessarily inherent, especially as we exercise our freedom to move away from God. Yet God is still in charge; He supervises the circulation of good and evil, but does it in a way that satisfies His total respect for man's freedom. Pain then, is the price we pay for free will.
I enjoyed listening to this sermon very much. It lacked the abstractness of so much of the preaching heard these days, and Taylor avoided quoting or reading long passages from the bible to prove the points she was making. Instead, she gave examples from every day life, identified universally held concerns, and suggested straightforward ideas to cope with problems we all have in common. I was edified and informed by her preaching.
People who find music important will enjoy attending Berryville United Methodist Church. Konnie Sager, a local music teacher, is a highly skilled pianist and is at the center of the church's music; she plays with confidence and accompanies the small but accomplished choir perfectly. I especially enjoyed her playing of the old hymn Ask Ye What Great Things I Know.
The nine member (on the day I attended) choir is under the direction of Desiree Atchley. It was fun to hear them and, like Sager's piano accompaniment, they were confident and seemingly expert as they led the congregation in a hymn and response rich service. If I had the slighest ability to sing I would want to be a member of their choir.
The congregation was comprised of a healthy multi-generational mix: about a third was over fifty years of age with the balance made up of families with small children and adolescents. Everybody was nice to me. I was greeted when I arrived, and invited back when I left--with a coffee cup bearing the Church's logo.
Summarily, the Berryville United Methodist Church was, on the Sunday morning I attended services, a muscially gifted, traditional, and welcoming organization that offered meaningful and important ideas for realizing the Christian life. For more information, visit the churches website (hyper linked above) or call 870 423 2505.