JOE LAGUARDIA: Autumn is a time to re-awaken our sense of God's presence

In early October, I had the privilege of worshiping in the sixth oldest church in Georgia -- Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church. It is home to some good friends of ours whom we visit several times a year. This was my family's annual October trip, a time to enjoy changing leaves, all-you-can eat Southern cooking at the Dillard House, and worship with the aforementioned couple. They have only been members for less than a year, but it was the church in which their newborn was baptized.

Since this was our first Sunday visit since they joined Grace-Calvary, this was our first time experiencing all this small church had to offer. It was an amazing experience.

Founded in 1838, Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church was originally a mission church for wealthier families who vacated to Mt. Airy from south Georgia during the hot summer months. As old as it is, the church holds several records.

For one, it continues to host a congregation in the original building, renovated only in the last 170-some-odd years to make room for electricity and air conditioning. It also holds the record for having the oldest working pipe organ (still in use today, its a 1948 Erben) in Georgia to date.

The church is rectangular, roughly half the size of our fellowship hall at Trinity Baptist. There are three rows of box pews (pews with little doors that open and close to keep the drafts out and only fit three to four people at any one time), a small chancel area, and a really tall pulpit. A slave balcony-turned-pipe organ/choir loft hugs worshiping folks overhead. The ceiling is as tall as our sanctuary ceiling, with hand-blown windows to match. There is no indoor plumbing.

The church was once commandeered by homiletician (and one of my favorite authors), Barbara Brown Taylor, as rector for several years, and the church made an appearance in her book,Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith.

Like other Episcopal churches, the focus of the service was on the Eucharist and liturgy. The service itself was a bit technical, similar to a Catholic Mass, and the homily was brief. There was no praise team and certainly no projector.

As I worshiped in that humble place, however, I was reminded that we go to church to worship God, not the preacher or the music or the building itself. Often and in too many churches, religious entertainment replaces an abiding relationship with God. We lose focus rather easily, and I always tend to think that committee meetings are our way to distract us from this fact.

This is the goal of our annual October trip in the first place. My wife and I, and now our two children, see autumn as a time to reflect and ponder on what is most important in our life. It's a time to take a deep breath, take in the north Georgia mountain air, and see God in the details.

In fact, our four-day vacation was a bit hard on my wife and me. We went from being busy with two full-time jobs to spending every waking moment together, and we sometimes got the better of one another. The trip provided solace, but it also awakened us to the many conflicts and marital issues that sometimes go unattended (again, committee meetings keep us distracted!). We saw God in our lives, and had to reorient our love in places where love was hard to find.

Autumn is a time to reawaken our sense of God's presence. Just as God resides in that little church north of Atlanta, so too does God reside in our churches and, more significantly, in our hearts.

Let our sanctuaries and our hearts become the holy places they are, and let the Spirit take you to places that you need to go in your journey of faith. Let Him be the focus of your worship today.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.