When I was living in Piedmont in 2017, I didn’t see how I could ever be a minister again without starting my own congregation, something I somewhat attempted to do. That’s another mistake I made, but I might talk about that sometime in the future.
There are several reasons why I didn’t think I would ever work in ministry again, but here’s two: (1) any congregation which shared my paradigm of exclusion and narrower than narrow wouldn’t have anything to do with me, a heretic, and (2) my family had sent out letters to all of the area churches “in good standing” warning them about me.
So in the Fall of 2017, I was shocked to learn that a ministry position was about to open up and that they wanted me, a heretic, to come try out.
Here’s basically how it happened. One of my friends who lives in Michigan had a member of his congregation who happened to stop at the Hickory Street Church of Christ in Arcadia, Florida. This brother picked up a copy of the bulletin to take back with him. The article in the bulletin happened to be talking about some of the things I discussed in an earlier blog post.
My friend in Michigan was ecstatic. It’s not everyday you find someone who shares your views but came to them independently of any help outside the Bible, someone who wasn’t even familiar with the theological lingo associated with your beliefs.
Anyways, word got back to me via my Michigan contact that this congregation was about to start searching for a minister. All because someone travelled almost 19 hours (1,273 miles) South to visit family.
Laura was finishing up school, so we slowly moved to Florida over 2018, finally landing there at the start of July.
We had our ups and downs, but all in all, the time there was wonderful. We loved spending time with the people, having discussions in Bible class, and I made several friends in the area, including my good buddy and brother in Christ who works at the First Christian Church down there, Dave.
The Christian Church, for those of you not familiar with my heritage, are no different from the Churches of Christ except for one major thing. They have the same material in their tracts, the same arguments, the same communion practices, but they differ in that they use instruments in their worship to God. I was privileged to speak at his congregation for their Christmas service, a men’s breakfast, and attend a few classes Dave taught when schedules would allow.
Dave and Amy, his wonderful wife, gave us a much needed friendship. Their guidance is one of the major reasons we felt confident moving back to Alabama. They always encouraged us to trust in the Lord and go through the doors He opens for us.
Before too long in Florida, Laura and I had our first child, Cayden Wesley Rogers. He and I share a birthday and a lot of personality, maybe too much personality. With the Covid pandemic, a newborn, stress at school, and a host of other things such as sick grandparents, my wonderful wife Laura was understandably exhausted. She was exhausted physically (Bap! Bap!), mentally, and even spiritually.
Something you need to know about me is that I was meant to be born in Florida. The sun, the ocean, the blistering heat, and the walking trails through the swamps are a few of my favorite things. I have a theory as to why this is. Heaven on earth for me is Maywood Christian Camp, and summers there are basically everything above except for the beach, but I digress.
Not only do I love Florida, I love Hickory Street Church in Arcadia. We could discuss just about about anything in Bible class. No questions were off limits. No subjects were taboo. I could be myself without having too much to worry about. Again, not everything was perfect, no place is. Another great thing abut Hickory Street was its proximity to many great friends in Fort Myers Florida. They would come and visit regularly, and I loved all of them like a second family.
As a husband, Paul says that I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church in that He gave Himself for it. So, what do you do when you are relatively happy but your wife is in desperate need of a move closer to family? Well, you move.
But let me set the context for this a little bit better.
Laura Shay Rogers is truly an amazing wife. She has put up with me and followed me around in my ministry for years. She has sacrificed so much for my (really our) ministry. Relocating to Alabama was something I was happy, although reluctant, to do.
If getting the ministry job at Hickory Street was about as close to a miracle that I have seen, then it would take a miracle of equal magnitude, if not more, to get me back to Alabama. So we prayed and prayed. My friend Brian McLaren offered help in helping me find or even plant a church for several different denominations including the Disciples of Christ, another branch of my heritage, but thankfully I received a Facebook message one day from my friend and fellow minister Jesse.
It asked if I, a heretic, would be willing to move back to Alabama.
We apparently had talked about it before then, but I think it started off almost as a joke, but when he messaged me this time, it was something he was seriously considering. Then, about three months after that, I received another message asking if I would be willing to move. I declined because of plans I had for the Fall, but those fell through. About a month later, I sent him a message saying we were considering.
We set up meetings, interviews, and a time for me to preach. I’ve always wanted to be a full time minister again; I really believe it is what I am meant to do. And thanks to the counsel of people like my friend Dave, I felt ready to leave exile in Florida and return to the promised land: the foothills of Alabama, my first love.
What happened next happened very quickly. We received the job offer, gave our notice to Hickory Street, secured Laura a teaching job, and began packing in a matter of weeks. We said our goodbyes, visited the beach for the last time as Florida residents (there was red tide of course lol), and made the trip back to Alabama.
We are now about five months in, and let me tell you, this is my new heaven on earth. As much as I loved Maywood, I can’t believe that a place like this exists, that a church like this exists.
Of course they have their problems. Of course they have things to work on. Covid hasn’t been kind to this congregation like many around the world.
But when I tell you that it is my new heaven on earth, I really mean it.
Let me tell you a little bit about what sold us on North Broad, besides their coke cooler with unlimited supplies of Dr. Pepper.
Sunday morning worship was amazing. Jason Simmons, our worship leader, does a great job picking out songs, leading in worship, and practicing with the praise team. A praise team (mic’d signers) is something I never experienced, but I instantly fell in love with it. I was able to listen in to my part and pick up on the songs quicker than normal.
For communion, they offer the option for anyone who wants to remain seated. Everyone else has the option of gathering around a table like they would have done in the first century, giving each other a hug, and taking communion together.
After Sunday service I met with the youth group and their parents. The youth room is awesome. They have chairs circled up for Bible study, places to hang out and eat, different games like foosball and this cool game where its pool but put-put at the same time. And the kids were great. It really was a treat.
But barn night was something else. One of our amazing couples at North Broad invites everyone to their barn on Sunday evenings sometimes several times a month. They get together, circle around the campfire, eat, fellowship, play, sing out of old hymnals, and several of us bring instruments and play everything from blues to bluegrass. There really is something for everyone.
As fantastic as all of that is, there is something else about barn night that is so special.
As I told you before, Laura had been having a difficult time, so we wanted to be closer to our families, but we also wanted a larger church family.
Cayden took right to everyone. Several of the parents and kids played with him and helped out while we were visiting and eating our dinners. We kept our eye on him, but we hardly had to even pay attention.
I can’t tell you how much that meant to Laura and me, and this has been consistent over the last five months (Et Eeeeettttt!).
North Broad is a place where you can love and be loved. There is something for everyone to do and be involved in. If it’s not happening, there are people there who will bend over backwards to help you make it happen.
They are servants to everyone around them, family to each other, and truly want to spread the infectious good news to everyone around them.
I wish I could have been here when I was going through some of the dark times I related to you in earlier posts because these brothers and sisters in Christ would have been right there to help me. Not only that, though, they are people you can be vulnerable around, so you are allowed to express your doubts, questions, and problems.
If you are looking for a place where you can be supported on your own journey no matter what, a place where you can have a family, a place where the ministers know what it’s like to go through the stages of stability, discontinuity, disembedding, transition, and reformation then I invite you to North Broad.
We aren’t perfect. We will make mistakes. But I truly believe that it can be your heaven on earth too. To be honest with you, not everyone feels this way about North Broad, and that is okay. Everyone has their own unique needs and preferences, and we support people who need a different kind of community. But if my story resonates with you at all, I invite you to visit one of our barn nights, Sunday services, or just to come up to my office and hang out. They’ve helped me so much, so I know they can help you too.
Jacob said, “Surely God was in this place and I was not aware of it.” Well, God’s presence is evident here. That I am sure of.
Thank you so much for following me on my journey. Writing these posts have brought me laughter, tears, and a whole lot of cringe, but I hope that they have helped you. If you can identify with any part of my journey and be encouraged by it, then I have done my job. Thank you again for reading and listening.