Once in a while, even reporters need a glimpse of the light.
There’s not much beautiful orthodoxy on the God-beat these days. The headlines are dominated by lawsuits, affairs, and seemingly endless conflicts, many of them between believers of different stripes. These are troubling times for those who write about matters of faith, says Laurie Goodstein, a national religion reporter for The New York Times.
“Every day I wake up and I say, is there anything we can do?” she told members of the Religion Newswriters Association recently. “. . . There are days when I feel despair about the news and the place of religion in it.”
Yet sometimes still, we are surprised by hope. Take the case of Miss Barbour “Bobbie” Wright.
For 30 years, Miss Bobbie stood outside the doors of Hillview Baptist Church, a small congregation south of Nashville, and waited for a miracle. She was there in the early 1980s, when the Hillview held its first service with 7 people in a tent on a snowy Easter Sunday. And she was there a year ago, on the day that Hillview Baptist met for the last time. All along, Miss Bobbie hoped and prayed the church would one day be filled to overflowing.
But Hillview, which once had as many as 100 people, had dwindled to a congregation of 14. Last spring, they voted to merge with Conduit Church, a relatively new congregation meeting in a nearby school. Conduit had people but no building. Hillview Baptist had few people and a building. It seemed like a perfect match.
Still, Miss Bobbie said that God told her to vote against the merger. The final vote was 13 to 1. The merger went forward. And then she almost walked away.
“This is when I’m going to leave,” she told her former pastor after the vote.
But she came back for the next Sunday and saw the church filled for worship.
“You can’t describe what it would be like when you see these people walking in through the door,” she said recently. “That’s what you had dreamed for, but you never thought you’d ever see your dream come true.”
For churches like Hillview, a merger can be a chance for rebirth—to see ministry flourish after years of struggling. Yet grief continues after a church closes down. And the work of faithful believers like Miss Bobbie is easily forgotten.
It turns out that quitting isn’t really Miss Bobbie’s style. And she’s not easily forgotten.
After that first service, the newly-merged congregation held a meet-and-greet session. But there wasn’t much meeting or greeting going on at first. The older members of Hillview sat at one table, set apart from the newcomers.
So Miss Bobbie got up and went from table to table, introducing herself.
“I thought if God wants us to be together, this is no way to start off,” she said.
The next Sunday she took up her post at the front door, and she’s been there for two services every Sunday since. Among the people she greeted were two new friends: Sue Mohr, 54, and Kerry Stewart, 45. The three hit it off and began to hang out together.
“We’re the ladies who do lunch,” says Mohr, who works as a marketing director for a Christian ministry.
Little by little, Stewart and Mohr learned Miss Bobbie’s story. How she quit school at 15 to get married and started working full-time. How for the next 67 years, she worked as many as three jobs as at time, trying to keep her family’s head above water while raising three children and nursing her beloved husband, Jimmy, through 56 surgeries in their 59 years of marriage. How she and a small group of friends scrimped and saved to buy a small piece of land to start Hillview Baptist, doing much of the work on the church themselves.