I remember it all so well: the smells, the sounds, the anticipation.
Once upon a time, hard though it may be for some to imagine, salt-of-the-earth Adventists occasionally gathered in dark, cavernous rooms to watch movies. In those halcyon days, we took Ellen White’s cautions about theaters to heart. Instead of sneaking downtown, we organized our own entertainment in a sanitized if not sanctified location — the local church school gymnasium.
Those of more mature years will instantly remember and resonate to the titles of Pollyanna, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller and So Dear to My Heart.
Of course, we kept our Saturday evening excitement in proper perspective. Entertainment was indelibly coupled with overtones of hardship — the patience of the saints tested by the cold metal bite of folding chairs.
The wild card for the evening was the film projector conscripted for the occasion from the school’s audio-visual closet. Designed for 30-minute educational films, the venerable machine labored mightily under the burden of a two-hour marathon. The audio wavered constantly between sharps and flats. Viewers weathered invariable interruptions when the film slipped its cog, chattering away on the screen while the harried operator rushed to reset the loop, an excuse for some to slip out for another 10-cent bag of popcorn.
These same folks would gather on crisp December evenings for the annual ingathering forays into the community, and at other times throughout the year for service and ministry. These people were my extended church family.
I have a certain fondness for these recollections, yet in today’s world, they seem rather quaint and parochial. Most people, most homes, have multiple sources through which entertainment flows — in far better consistency than yesteryear. In this country, there is no need to gather in dim, drafty buildings for movies or ministry. It all comes directly to us, for better or worse whenever and wherever we want. On Sabbath, you can select live-streaming video from the best Adventist preachers right in the comfort of your recliner.
Yet, with the slickest technology and the finest content, there is something missing for those not infirm or housebound. It affects how we worship and how we serve. Those old-fashioned gym nights and balky projectors, the cold nights of ingathering, and Sabbath afternoons of literature distribution were part of a bigger reality. We gathered together as part of a community of faith and friends on a common mission. And, in today’s technologically efficient world, that’s what often gets left out — community connected to mission and mission connected to community.
The body of Christ is strengthened when we work together in His name. The social bonds of honest interaction help prevent fanaticism and “selfie” messiahs. Worshipping and ministering with multigenerational groups broadens our understanding. It deepens our respect for those with the same mission but different methods.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10: 24, 25).
Near as I can tell, as that day draws closer, so should we.