My first pastoral call was to the First Presbyterian Church of Winnfield, a little town in the piney woods of northern Louisiana. The manse next door to the church was built about 1900. It was one of those beautiful old southern homes, with a wide wrap-around porch with a swing. Before the church secured it for a manse, the house was the office for a timber company.
Over the years, the manse had gotten pretty run down, with dingy paint and curling wallpaper. The varnish on the paneling and door frames had grown dark and gummy. Bless the church folks — they were determined to renovate that house before we moved in. So we lived elsewhere for three months, and joined them in painting and tearing out old carpet.
The hardest part of the renovation was stripping off the old varnish from the door frames and paneling. But what a happy surprise awaited us! Beneath that opaque coating was the most striking burled pine, and the swirls of its grain displayed the kind of beauty our gracious God seems to hide everywhere. Years before, the timber company logged several remaining stands of virgin forest, then stashed away those boards — the burled pine. When it came time to build an office, they used those boards for paneling and trim.
There was no debate about how we would refinish the boards — no stain at all, but only a light varnish to accent the lines formed by God himself. It totally transformed the house.
We in ECO have just moved into a new church house, this Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. I say the house is new, but as we’re discovering, some of its most beautiful possibilities are clouded with old, gummy coatings from years past. Even such lovely words as Covenant, Order, Evangelical, and Presbyterian can be quite opaque. And our habits for forming priorities, budgets, membership patterns, and partnerships need a major makeover.
The easiest thing to do would be simply to move right in and get on with church life like we’ve always known it. But in these earliest months of the life of ECO, we have a unique opportunity to renovate our understandings and practices in ways that reveal and then accent the full beauty that the Lord has hidden away for us here.
How are you and your congregation renovating our new ECO house? Here’s what we’re trying at St. Giles so far: