“I found the Lord.”

“Really.”

Of all people. Susan. I won’t go into all the reasons I found her revelation surprising. But, she wouldn’t have been on my list of likely Lord-finders.  “Are you kidding?”

“No, I’m serious.” During her months-long absence from our ecumenically run youth center, Susan had somehow fallen in with the right crowd. I’m disappointed that I can’t recall more details of her conversion experience. I don’t recall whether she had been invited to a Christian youth fellowship in the area, or whether she went there searching…or whether a trusted friend had invited her to a local church. Susan had been raised in one of the churches that supported our drop-in center, but one thing or another (or several) had pushed/pulled her away from that church and when she had first come to the youth center she was into a lot of things church folk frown on.

Maybe she  had felt frowned on. Even with some details lost to the three-plus decades of time that has passed since our conversation the day she came back to the Spanish Castle, I do remember a couple of things vividly. One was where we were sitting, what the light was like coming through the upstairs windows that afternoon, and how I felt when she asked me a challenging question.

“I’m curious about something,” she began. “This place is run by churches, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why didn’t anyone tell me about the Lord in all the months I was coming here?” I took the question personally, of course. It was as if she were saying, “Why didn’t you  tell me about Jesus…”  It wasn’t a query meant to condemn. I took her question to be born of genuine curiosity. We gave her and scores of her friends a place to meet, to talk, to play pool, to listen to music, to have a safe place of their own…but we had kept to ourselves the one thing that Susan now knew she had needed.

Feeling a bit defensive, I explained that, yes, the Spanish Castle Youth Center was created by and sustained by several local churches. All the adults involved with the place on a day-to-day basis were volunteers from those churches. But from the beginning, “we” had decided that our Christian witness would be one of presence  instead of words.  Using the vernacular of the day (the early 70s), we didn’t want to lay some religious trip on kids who came in the door, fearful that the very ones who needed the place most would feel unwelcome if they didn’t share our beliefs.

“We never made a secret of the fact that the Bon Air churches started the place, nor that the house was owned by the Episcopal church next door. And I was certainly open about being a Presbyterian minister.”

“But even you didn’t talk about the Lord,” she countered. As if to say, you’d think that might have come up at some point!

All I could do now was ask my own sincere question, not to spar with her, my new sister in Christ, but to see if our subtle youth ministry might be redeemed from her legitimate concern.

“Susan, let me ask  you  a question. Suppose when you first came here, we had talked to you directly about Jesus, and told you that he was your Savior, and challenged you to believe in him, accept him, and to live in him? Or, short of that verbal witness, suppose we had Christian tracts laying around everywhere, and religious posters on the wall, and prayed before every shared activity. Would you have come back after your first visit?”

“No. I know I wouldn’t have. I see your point.”

Aha, I thought. I scored a point.

Her response: “But, you know, as we all got to know one another better, and as we became friends, that would have been a good time to be more open about the Lord. Don’t you think the kids here need to have a relationship with Christ?”

So it went. Born again Susan was right, but I also knew that “there is a time for every purpose under heaven.”  And that the witness of churches to the faith that formed them (and that will always inspire them) molds itself to the various needs and conditions of all the Susans and Jeffs of the world.

Susan and I parted as friends in Christ that afternoon. I don’t recall that she ever came back to the house, though. She did  go back to her home church one Sunday morning. It was Pentecost Sunday, and she slipped into the chair next to me as worship began. But that’s another story, one I told in a sermon from some years back. Maybe that will be my next entry.

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