Preaching under the old oak tree

Parishioner Franklin Jones takes a folding aluminum rocking chair out of the trunk of his car and picks the perfect spot to set up under the shade of a giant oak tree.

The 86-year-old Newberry resident has been attending service at Oak Dale Baptist Church in Jonesville for more than two decades.

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“It’s a fill-in until we can go back to what we’ve been doing,” Jones says about going back to the old way of doing things before a pandemic changed all of the rules. Jones says he is looking forward to going back to “our old-fashioned inside worship.”

But for a month now, Jones and two dozen members of the church are gathering at 11 a.m. on Sundays for a drive-in service during which Pastor James Taylor delivers his message from a flatbed trailer hooked up to a pickup truck.

With a guitar in place and a giant horn sitting on his music stand pulpit, Pastor Taylor and Brother William Gracy begin the service with an invitation to parishioners in cars to honk their horns when they like what they are hearing.

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“I want to welcome all the folks that are watching us online,” Pastor Taylor says facing the 10 cars and trucks parked and pointed at him.

“When we started doing our online service, I think we were blessed to have 55 people watching,” he says. “Then it continued to increase, 85, 105, 135, 155 and just kept growing from there.

“It’s good to see all of you here from over there in the balcony,” jokes about the cars parked furthest out on the sprawling church lawn.

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“Welcome one another with a toot of the horn!,” he says and jokes, “I’ve always wanted to toot my own horn.”

Pastor Taylor and Brother Gracy perform their first song “At Calvary” as traffic on Newberry Road passes by. There is a breeze keeping the cool morning air moving and butterflies are drifting about.

When the song ends, Pastor Taylor shares some good news.

“The report this week this as far as the church finances is excellent,” he says. “We thank God for all the folks who give, all the folks who’ve caught up on their giving, all the folks that believe in tithing so much that they even tithed the government check that they got in the last week. 

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“We praise God for that,” he says. “I know a lot of churches that are in trouble financially, but we are blessed.”

Pastor Taylor does not ignore why the service is being delivered outdoors for the third Sunday in a row.

“The question is asked,” he says. “In times like these, with all of the dangers and all of the troubles and all of the disruptions in our lives, where could I go? 

“And the answer to that? But to the Lord.”

Then he directs everyone to turn to their bibles and says it is good to see everyone looking down.

“I know that many of you have your bibles in your car,” he says. “The message is in your scripture.”

Pastor Taylor takes the congregation on a journey through Psalm 32: 8.

“God is not playing hide and seek,” he says and notes that everyone can find God. “It’s easy,” he says about locating Him. “He’s looking for you!”

“God says, ‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way in which thou shalt go,’” Pastor Taylor says. “God is guiding you.”

And then he makes this request.

“Father would you bless your word today? Whether it be here under the shadow of these beautiful oak trees or whether it be in a news report or on Facebook or online that you would bless each one. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

“Somebody may ask the question,” Pastor Taylor says. “Where is God in the strange day in which we live where people keep distance from each other to keep from catching and unseen enemy virus that is out there?

“Where people can’t go to many stores or eat at a restaurant unless you meet them at the door or they meet you in the parking lot and bring your food to you.

“It’s a strange day in which we live when we are together at church we have to stay in our cars and not gather like we used to.”

Pastor Taylor is not afraid to ask the question that might be on the minds of allof his congregation watching him from their cars or on Facebook live.

“Where is God?”

The answer: “God is in the same place he’s always been,” Pastor Taylor reports. “He’s on the throne, he’s in control. He is the God who is listening and he’s listening to you when you cry, when you call, when you pray.”

Pastor Taylor poses a quandary about finding God’s will in this “unusual day.”

But he rejoices in sharing that God’s will is, “personal , knowable, and absolutely perfect.”

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“It’s a sin to doubt the love of God for you and doubt the will of God,” Pastor Taylor says.

“The Why of your life cannot usually be seen when you are going through it,” he reminds his listeners. “It will be seen later on or when you get to Heaven. 

“I don’t know what God is doing with this virus that is hitting us as well in our church where we cannot gather,” Pastor Taylor admits.

“I know a lot of Christians that are stronger now than they were a couple of months ago. We have to face the turmoil of emotions, our questions and confusion. He’s got a plan, he’s at work and he’s moving around. Your job is to find out which way he’s going and go with him.

“One day he will make it all clear.”

Catch a glimpse of a recent service here.

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