This weekend I once again did the Prayer Walk at the Church at Argyle. Of course it was an amazing experience -- something I desperately needed. Right now, my life is like a busy intersection during rush hour. I'm in grad school part-time, work part-time and I'm a full-time wife and mother. This is mainly why you haven't seen a blog post here in awhile.
Going on the Prayer Walk was so wonderful, how can I explain it? It was like God gently guided me out of the busy intersection, down a peaceful tree-lined road and sat me next to still pond so we could talk.
Or, mostly so He could talk and I could listen. I'll give you one guess as to whether I'm better at talking or listening....
Okay, but before I get started talking, (I knew you'd guess right!) let me tell you a bit about the Church at Argyle. This place is nothing short of amazing. Located in Orange Park right on Argyle Forrest Boulevard, sits the church, an unassuming group of brick buildings adorned with a simple cross and a roadside sign. There's nothing intimidating about it, in fact, everything about the place is designed to be welcoming. Everyone is encouraged to dress casually, and the atmosphere is warm and relaxing. As you walk in, you are greeted with smiles and hugs.
I came to the Church at Argyle for the great atmosphere, but I stayed for the music.
There is no way to describe how awesome the music is at this church. I get goosebumps and/or tear up nearly every time. Each time I am immersed in the awesome, uplifting contemporary worship music I think: I can't believe how good these singers and musicians are! They need to take this show on the road -- they are that good!
Leading the music is our pastor and music director -- Pastor Rick Painter. Last year The Church at Argyle lost our beloved Pastor, Dr. Ken Dyal, and our church chose Rick to take his place. Now pastor Rick does double duty, leading the worship, giving the sermons, and leading the church. Although everyone in the church misses Pastor Ken still so much, I believe our church is as wonderful and strong as ever, and that is due in large measure to Pastor Rick's devotion and hard work.
Pastor Rick doesn't tower behind a podium and never raises his voice during sermons, something I truly appreciate. I've been to a number of other churches where the pastor passionately yells during the sermon, and it always makes me uncomfortable. Pastor Rick gives his sermons seated at a table on the altar, talking to the congregation as if we were sitting at a table with coffee and having a heart-to-heart. I of course love this approach. He gives simple, easy to understand teachings that we can all apply to our daily lives, so I find it really refreshing.
Other things I love about Argyle -- we have a great "Kid Stuf" production once a month, which is a Disney-style song and dance stage production for parents and children to enjoy together and learn about God. We also have many Life Groups (I'm in one and its great!) where groups of people from church get together in each other's homes to share meals, talk and "do life together". There's much more: a motorcycle riding group, a guys golf group, and lots of groups for kids and teens. Check out the Church at Argyle's website to learn all about the various groups and ministries at www.thechurchatargyle.org
Okay, on to the Prayer Walk. First let me explain what a Prayer Walk is. Similar to "Stations of the Cross" that other churches have during their Holy Week (the week before Easter), its a path of "stations" set up, for worshipers to walk around to and reflect on Jesus' final days, and his death and resurrection. The Church at Argyle's Prayer Walk is held for several hours on Thursday and Friday before Easter, and times to enter the prayer path have to be set up by appointment.
I called for my appointment pretty late in the game. I called from work the day the Prayer Path was starting (this past Thursday). I spoke to Hal Hunter, the Ministry Pastor at the church. Hal is an amazing person -- this quiet gentle soul that radiates warmth and kindness at all times. The first time I went through the Prayer Path was two years ago -- an event that Hal helped orchestrate. At the time, I was struggling through a tough time -- my father and I were fighting and I had all this built up anger and frustration.
Back then, I was so desperate for some help from my growing anxiety and stress, that I'd approached the altar after church to pray with someone. Okay, so if you grew up in a Catholic Church, you know that this is way outside my comfort zone. Also, if you know me, you know that I don't cry easily, and open displays of emotion are not my thing. Still, that day, I walked up to Hal, starting to ask if we could pray, and then I just burst into tears.
Actually, it was kind of funny. Not at the time, mind you, but my memory of it is funny. Here's why. First of all, I'm a control freak most of the time (I know, big surprise), and I always have in my head exactly how something is going to go. I absolutely did not expect to lose it like I did. I think my mini breakdown can be attributed to 2 different things: first, as any of you control freaks out there know, the more you try to keep tight control over an emotional situation all the while not dealing with the emotion... well eventually something's gotta give and that something most likely is going to end up being your sanity. The other thing that made me lose it that day?
The genuine kindness and compassion written all over Hal's face. Genuine compassion like that is rare.
That day, as I loudly blubbered to poor, quiet Hal in the middle of a crowd that was hanging out after church, most of whom were now looking over in alarm, Hal acted as if all of this was perfectly natural. He confidently guided me out of the church and to his office, handed me a tissue and listened to me for a long while. Then he produced an excellent book on the topic of forgiveness, and some kindhearted advice that was exactly what I needed. It was like he handed me a life preserver in the middle of a time when I was drowning. It changed my life. The whole story of that encounter plus the prayer path I did that year can be read here:
So when I called at the very last minute for an appointment this year to do the prayer path, Hal was of course the embodiment of compassion. There were no appointments left, but Hal gave me his own time slot, despite my protests. Although Hal probably ministers to thousands of people each year and our encounter was two year ago, he remembered it completely. "I remember that the Prayer Path was a very emotional experience for you. I want you to have my time slot. Really. Its ok..." Like I said, embodiment of kindness...
So I showed up plenty early for my appointment to go through the Prayer Path on Thursday. After I stopped by the check in table, I spent some time chatting with friends I've gotten to know after several years now attending the Church at Argyle. One of them of course, was Hal. It's funny though, whenever I talk to Hal -- his voice is so quiet, I always have to immediately adjust my speaking volume. I start out all loud and high pitched and end up hushed and quiet. Then I saw my friend Kaliegh a sweet young energetic college student, and my volume and pitch when right back up as we giggled and chatted.
Just then I spotted a boy, maybe age 8 or 10 years old come out of the Prayer Path. A member of the Creative Arts Team (these guys put together great stuff for our worship gathering -- funny videos & skits, and serious / emotional stuff too, like the Prayer Path) came over to ask if the boy would like to say a few words on video about the Prayer Path. Then this kid proceeded to give an eloquent, articulate summary of the Prayer Path and what it had meant to him. I was beyond impressed. It reminded me of another huge reason I chose Argyle.
I am so impressed by the kids and young adults! Sometimes these guys will speak to the church about a conference they've attended, or they'll even get the chance to put together some of the worship gathering, and each time I'm blown away. Several young adults sing and play in the musical part of the service and each time, I'm just so floored. I want Christian to be raised in this kind of environment.. lots of great examples to follow and good crowds to get mixed up in. Lots of great leaders to guide him.
But I digress. Soon it was time for me to go into the Prayer Path. I was outfitted with headphones and a small mp3 player by one of the sweet, cheerful church leaders. She had a computer set up and was able to tell exactly when I should enter the path. Another thing I love about Argyle. They're very savvy and modern (at least to my eyes). They have all the worship services on the website to watch in case you missed a service, or just want to watch it again. The staff members have Twitter accounts and blogs. The first time I saw one of the youngsters look up a Bible verse on her I Phone App, I was like "boy am I behind on the times!"
The church leader then led me into our main worship area, which had been completely emptied of chairs and transformed into a path that was taped onto the floor. Thirteen stations were set up along the path. There was slow, sweet meditation music playing quietly in the background, and candles were lit everywhere. The lights were low, and the candles were giving off this warm, sweet haze. I was led to a comfortable chair -- the first station, and a soothing narrator's voice talked to me about the Prayer Path and gave me instructions.
"Welcome to the Prayer Path at the Church at Argyle," the narrator said, as soft music played. "This is meant to be a special time of reflection for you. The theme for this year is 'From Beginning to Beginning: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.' So just relax, and follow the instructions as we travel along the path. Don't worry, nobody will be interacting with you, you won't be embarrassed in any way. Anything you write down at a station will either be erased, or you will take it with you. So don't be afraid. Just enjoy this time of peace and reflection." After a few minutes, everyone quietly filed to the next station, and I headed to station #2.
The narrator then guided me through the stations, which recalled various milestones in Jesus' life. While reminding me of the events of Jesus' life, the narrator also encouraged me to interact with the stations. At one station, I was instructed to write on a small piece of paper something I need God's help with. I filled my tiny piece of paper with a long run-on sentence. It went something like: "I need God's help with balance for my life, balance with school, work and family, and I need God to help me remember to be more selfless, I think I struggle with selfishness a lot..." as usual, I was completely unable to be concise. Besides, "what I need God's help with" is a topic I could easily write a book on.
Then another station encouraged me to consider what I was doing for God in my life. This was tougher. Another station had me sitting in front of a mirror, and as the narrator recalled Jesus' temptation in the desert, I was encouraged to think of what were the temptations I dealt with each day, and then I was to write about that temptation right on the mirror. Then (thankfully) I got to erase it away. One really cool station had a path of sand set up right on the church floor, where I got to remove my shoes and walk barefoot through the sand while the narrator recalled the beautiful poem "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson.
All in all, it was such a wonderful, peaceful experience, and it took me about 30 or 35 minutes. As I said, something I really needed. When I exited the Prayer Path, I was also given the option (If I wanted) to say a few words in front of the camera about my experience.
Did I want to? Ha! The camera loves me. Or, let's face it I love the camera. The Zombie Disco video springs to mind... So I spoke from my heart on camera. "I think sometimes the life and death of Jesus seems like something that happened so long ago, in a country so far away. Today, walking the Prayer Path was a reminder of how close it all really is."
There are so many things I am grateful for in my life. Faith, Love, Family... the Church at Argyle for me is like all three of those things wrapped up in one awesome place.