That Wind by Bill Pike


At 1:42 a.m. on Friday, March 2, 2018, the show started.

That’s when I was jolted from sleep with a phone call from the security company who is responsible for monitoring our church.

As soon as the technician told me the location of the alarm, I knew who to blame—that wind.

Up on the third floor of the education wing, when the wind is howling outside, a slight draft occurs. In an old building, that draft is just enough to disturb an overly sensitive contact.

But in truth, what is really taking place is this.

Over time, property managers for Methodist churches gradually learn that the ghosts of the Wesley brothers sometimes race along empty hallways and corridors on windy evenings playing hide and seek.

I know this first hand from previous security calls. There is no other way to explain an elevator door opening in the middle of the night, and no one walks out of the elevator.

Our pals at the National Weather Service had alerted us that we were going to be battered by strong, sustained winds into Saturday. On Thursday and early Friday morning, our staff had been busy making preparations for a 1 p.m. funeral on Friday.

We had lost Don Pierce. A person who had touched many lives with his servant heart. We anticipated a large turn out for Don’s funeral.

Also, we knew that our church is located in a neighborhood with lots of stately trees. Our prior knowledge with power outages from hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, ice storms, and that wind told us to be aware.

Friday was a beautiful blue sky day. Bright sunshine was abundant, but that wind was relentless. As the morning progressed, local news outlets were covering stories about fallen trees and power outages. That wind was having an impact.

The start time for the funeral quickly arrived. The Sanctuary filled. Our bereavement team volunteers were ready to receive family and guests in Trinity Hall following the service with a reception.

The family had organized and created a slide show with wonderful photos capturing Don’s life. This was to be played during the reception. Additionally, they supplemented that presentation with more framed photos displayed on a table in Trinity Hall.

But this service also had some special technical requests from the family. Don’s son Al resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Sadly, like Don had been, Al was in a hard fought battle with cancer. Al was unable to travel to Richmond for his father’s funeral.

In our Sanctuary, we have the capacity to live stream our Sunday morning worship services. The family asked if we would be willing to do this for the funeral service, and of course the answer was yes. One of our members, William Marriott, who has skills working with technology, was planning to be at the funeral and agreed to handle the video board.

With a full Sanctuary, our Music Director, Charles Staples, began quietly playing hymns at the piano as late arrivals hustled to find a seat. Senior Pastor, Larry Lenow, was in the parlor with the family offering final instructions and prayer as they prepared to enter the Sanctuary.

That wind continued its howling outside. Just as the family started their walk down the center aisle, we heard two loud booms. The electrical supply for the building was gone.

Booms like we heard are not a good sound. Usually, this was a sign that a tree or a large limb had harshly encroached a power line, downing the line, and probably blowing a transformer.

Inside the Sanctuary, the service didn’t miss a step. Thanks to some quick thinking, by Andy Duerson, the Pierce’s son-in-law, and others, cell phones were used to send live the progression of the service to Al in Boston.

Outside the Sanctuary, we started to develop a plan for moving people through darkened hallways into the reception area. Staff members, Paula Cadden, Ronnie Johnson, and volunteer, Lynn Berry, began to figure out a response.

Candles were located and placed in the restrooms by Trinity Hall. Lynn remembered that some attending the funeral service had mobility challenges. No power, meant no elevator.

So, it was reasoned the best way to move these people to the reception was to suggest that they return to their cars and drive to the handicapped entrance area of Trinity Hall.
The bereavement team in Trinity Hall was ready for the reception. They too had improvised with candles and cell phone flashlights in the kitchen. Through the Trinity Hall windows, the southern exposure was providing ample sunlight into the room.

During the witness and homily sections of the service, we were able to convey to Charles Staples the plans made to move people out of the Sanctuary. Charles shared this with Larry who made these announcements before concluding the service.

Guests made their way to Trinity Hall without incident. Bright sunlight filled the room.

With teamwork, and a bit of luck the service and reception took place without significant challenges.

It was after 5:30 p.m. before power was restored to a now empty church.

A few remarked that the loss of power was something Don had planned. They reasoned it reflected the sparseness of the lifestyle by the villagers in the mountainous regions of Honduras. This is where Don had led countless medical mission trips through the Friends of Barnabas organization.

Clearly, there was nothing sparse about Don Pierce’s life when it came to his capacity to touch the lives of people at home and in Honduras.

Fortunately for us, his leadership and graceful service will continue to live. Don through his wisdom developed a practical template for future Trinity leaders to follow in making a difference in Honduras.

Yes, that lousy, stinking, good for nothing, rotten, mean, disrespectul, cancer took Don’s last breath.

But, it didn’t take his spirit.

Consider these words from John 3:8:
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Don was born of the spirit.

That wind of the spirit pushed Don.

We need to let that wind of the spirit push us as well.

That would please Don.


All In The Timing by Bill Pike

Sunday, February 25 was going to be a busy morning at our church.

We were having two informational breakfast sessions for our annual stewardship campaign.

When I opened the building around 5:45, I initially spent a bit of time in Trinity Hall rechecking the set up for the breakfast.

Next, I started working my way through the building— unlocking doors, turning on a few lights, and checking the temperament of our boilers.

I had walked through the lobby at the Stuart Hall Road entrance to the Sanctuary. I took a few steps into the Sanctuary when I heard this horrible noise behind me.

I wondered if the good Lord had finally had enough of me, or maybe a grumpy student from my past was stopping by with a greeting.

I stepped back into the foyer, and I saw a cloud of dust. I looked to my left at the staircase and saw it was covered in debris. Then my eyes scanned upward where I could see that a 4×4 foot section of the ceiling was missing.

Immediately, I was thinking, God what in the world are you trying to do to me? It’s not like I don’t have anything else going on this morning.

Then, I was looking for someone to blame besides God. And I settled on the music director for our church, Dr. Charles Staples.

For years, some in the congregation have complained that Dr. Staples plays the organ too loud. So my theory is that all of those sound waves from an organ played too loudly finally conspired with Mr. Newton. This resulted in the ceiling saying— “I’ve had enough of this vibration nonsense, I’m going to collapse.”

Something pulled me out of my blame game daydream, and I started figuring out what I needed to do.

I shut doors to slow down the dust. Opened an exterior door and put a box fan in it to pull out the dusty air.

Then I worked to seal off access to the stairwell in the lobby and at the balcony entrance. Next, I made a quick call to our senior pastor, Larry Lenow, to let him know he needed a hard hat when he entered the building.

When Larry arrived, we agreed not to cleanup the debris. We opted to focus on getting us through our Sunday morning plans.

As the congregation started to arrive, there were lots of questions. Some speculated that I had conspired to have the ceiling collapse just in time for the stewardship breakfast. Jokingly, Larry even insinuated that line of thought in his morning announcements.

Well, we made it through the morning with no more rumblings from the ceiling. On Monday, we made arrangements to have the ceiling material tested for the fearful “a” word— asbestos. Lucky for us, the test came back negative.

Later in the week, with dust masks on, we cleaned up and bagged the debris. Even though, we can see some fissures in the remaining ceiling, no more plaster came tumbling down.

Perhaps, when we take the old ceiling down, we might discover why it decided to collapse. I don’t think God, or the organ being played loudly made the ceiling take a downward tumble.

But, I do think something can be said about God’s timing. For whatever reason, the ceiling decided to collapse with no one standing under it. Clearly, significant injuries would have occurred if people had been on the staircase when the ceiling mumbled internally— I’ve had enough. I am thankful we had no injuries.

I often wonder what is in God’s timing. We live in an impatient world. Nanoseconds dominate. I don’t believe God is on nanoseconds time.

Reminds me of Acts 1:7: “Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.”

Can’t be much clearer—it isn’t for me to know what is in God’s timing. But, I know I will continue to be curious.

This quote from Lailah Gifty Akita reaffirms the wisdom from Acts: “We can neither hurry nor hasten the works of God.”

And if that’s the case, it becomes even more important for me to hold on to these words from Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”








Can Churches Be Saved?

During the last week of September 2017, fourteen members from Trinity United Methodist Church  attended a conference for church leaders at the Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kansas. This is the largest United Methodist church in America— 20,000 members, four campuses.


Led for 27 years by Adam Hamilton, COR today has moved from its humble beginnings in a funeral home to become a mega church. Overtime, COR has developed an annual leadership conference that is a hotbed for the latest trends and ideas related to churches.

Our team consisting of laity and staff attended with no desire to mold Trinity into a mega church. We went in the search mode, open to new ideas and strategies.

From Wednesday thru Friday, the pace was nonstop.

General sessions presented a variety of speakers from seasoned veterans to fire hot millennial church leaders.

After each presentation, like an established talk show host, Adam Hamilton, conducted insightful interviews, peppering the experts with worthwhile questions.

On Thursday afternoon, the session with Tony Morgan, founder of the Unstuck Group, was an attention grabber. Mr. Morgan’s topic— Seven Stages of Church Life Cycle: Moving the Church from Being Stuck to Unstuck, was a real look at the life cycle of a church. Mr. Morgan’s presentation was sobering with a serious sense of urgency.

His work is grounded in four areas: assessment, planning, structure, and action. Additionally, a bell curve is used to capture the phases of life for a church.

Seven phases are the focus for church life. These range from the initial launch of the church to the final sad action— placing the church on life support. Throughout this session, I kept thinking about Trinity and where we might register on the bell curve.

Mr. Morgan’s presentation impacted every member of our team. He touched a nerve.

It is no secret that for several years, attendance and interest in churches is in decline in America. Our church, Trinity, hasn’t been immune from this downward trend. An analysis of our attendance data over the last 15 years confirms Trinity’s slippage.

For the last eight years, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the staff at Trinity. I am no expert on churches as my prior life was in public education. However, I do have some observations.

Within my first year of work at Trinity, aside from an annual financial audit, staff evaluations, and a required charge conference at the conclusion of each church year, it appeared that we had no formal assessment or evaluative tools neither internally or externally to really take a close look at how the church is doing.

From my work in education, I can remember schools I served participating in an evaluative/accrediting process with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Local fire and police departments, periodically are assessed by professional organizations. Such evaluative assessments for accreditation are utilized by other professionals in our communities as well. A timeline for these evaluative interruptions might be every 3 to 5 years.

For the most part, a simple template is used— evaluate everything that is currently in place, make recommendations for improvement, and develop a realistic strategic plan.

But, there is one key ingredient, the assessment is conducted in cooperation with the local organization, but with the expertise coming from individuals outside the local organization.

With churches this would be a significant shift in evaluative thinking. But, from my humble perspective a shift that churches can’t avoid if they expect to keep their doors open.

At Trinity, we are taking a risk.  We entered into an agreement with Mr. Morgan’s Unstuck Group. Our twelve months of work is in its initial phases.  I hope to live through this experience to tell you about it!!

Several years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I had the privilege of accompanying our senior high youth to coastal Mississippi. On our last day of work, a member of the church where we had been staying during the week stopped to talk with me.

He wanted to thank us for coming to help. But, he also wanted to share an observation.  With tears in his eyes, he said, “The church people are the only ones left. They are the only ones still sending teams down to help us. Everyone else has pulled out.”

Now, I know churches are far from perfect. We have our flaws.

However, if we churches expect to “pull out” of our current mire, then we must significantly adjust our current scope of evaluating and assessing.

This means we must commit to assess every piece of our church beyond our normal predictable routines.

Who knows, disrupting those predictable routines might salvage a few churches.