I, like many of you, grew up in a small town church
I, like many of you, grew up in a small town church. I’ve mentioned before the church I grew up in, Beach Baptist Chapel on St. Joe Beach. I was just out of third grade when we moved to Florida, rented a house on Gulf Street, and were visited by Preacher William Smith. We began attending regularly, feeling loved and included in the small congregation. My little sister and I went to Girls in Action on Wednesday nights, while mom went to prayer meeting and choir practice. Our whole family went to Sunday morning services, sitting on creaky wooden pews in the first building the church worshipped in, the small wooden one that now houses the fellowship hall.
We grew to know and love the people at BBC. India Miller and Iduma Wingate led our Wednesday night girls group when we first arrived. Various people taught my Sunday school classes over the years: JoAnn Smith, Lois Miller, Lynda Whitfield, and others, each bringing her own love of the Lord to the children that we were…little children from the beach town we loved, children who were learning to memorize scripture, sing songs about God’s love, and pray together.
In high school, India Miller was there for us, with various other adults pitching in along the way. She led our Sunday night student group, she worked with us on music, she took us to youth camps, she had us in her home, she instigated bonfires and hotdogs on the beach. When Brother Ron Wagner became pastor of our church in the mid-1980s, he jumped feet-first into the student ministry, supporting what India was doing there. Charlie and Debby Morris, his daughter and son-in-law, joined us, as well, and rounded out the support system of loving adults in our church family. I am so thankful to have had all of them in my life as an impressionable young woman.
Of course I can’t think of our church without remembering all of the women my mother’s age who she loved and worked alongside during Women’s Missionary Union meetings, Vacation Bible School (she was the director each year, and did a fabulous job!), choir, and even road trips to Amelia Island, for one. Those women were a blessing to all of us: Nora Gibbs, Betty Curlee, Ella Parson, Frances Shores, Jeanette Janowski, Shirley Wagner, Sharon Shearer, and many others. Those women were a support system for each other, and for each other’s families. If anyone was sick, everyone prayed and took food over. If anyone’s child couldn’t afford to go to youth camp, somehow they’d come up with the money to include him or her. If anyone needed a ride somewhere, they knew one of those strong women would help. It was like a family…as the song we sang frequently goes, “I’m so proud I’m a part of the family of God…”
That’s what it was like in our small town church. We sang together, side by side in the pews every week. We worked together, whether at the paper mill, the local restaurants, schools, or salons. We were baptized on the beach together before we got the baptistry in the new building, and we cried alongside graves together when loved ones departed.
We loved each other deeply.
I cannot fathom, no matter how hard I try, how emotionally devastating it would have been for our precious, happy, loving church family if someone had walked in one of the open doors of our sanctuary, our home away from home, and began shooting down people we love, as happened in Charleston and in Sutherland. How can that be? What do you do after that?
What will happen now?
Well, if I know church folk, they’ll lean hard on each other and pray. They’ll weep together at the funerals. They’ll feed each other well after the funerals, and for many days afterward. They’ll take care of any who are widowed and need help. They’ll love each other. That’s what family does, and no bullet can destroy that love, as much as the forces of evil would like to. We don’t grieve as those who have no hope, as Paul said to the church in Thessalonica centuries ago. We do have hope.
Sadly, we have to comfort each other after the world’s tragic events far too frequently. Comfort after comfort is given. I consider it a calling we can all take part in; looking daily for people who are hurting, who need a kind word. Feed the hungry, care for the sick, take care of widows and orphans. By doing so, our hearts will indeed be comforted and love will grow, despite the best efforts of evil.
In that vein, I share with you a delicious, easy new recipe that you can make at home in a crock pot or on the stovetop, and share with a hungry neighbor or with your own family. It’s amazing how sharing a meal with someone who is struggling brings comfort not only to them, but to the one making the meal, as well. I hope this recipe does that for you, and that you enjoy it, too.
Chicken-corn chowder with pickled peppers
2 cups rotisserie chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 cups frozen yellow corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeños
1 clove garlic, minced (or one teaspoon jarred minced garlic)
1 cup evaporated fat free milk
1 tablespoon plain flour
3 cups chicken broth
Place the oil in a Dutch oven that is set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, and cook until it begins to sweat and become translucent. Add the corn, and cook it with the onion for five minutes, stirring frequently. (if needed, turn heat down a bit so the vegetables don’t scorch.)
Add the chicken, thyme, salt, garlic, and chopped peppers, and stir well. Add 3 cups chicken broth, and stir. Simmer over medium heat for ten minutes.
Add the flour to the milk, and whisk until completely smooth and incorporated.
Add flour mixture to the soup, and stir in. Allow to cook for several more minutes, until thickened.
Serve topped with more chopped pickled peppers, and if desired, a teaspoon of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.
Crock pot instructions: Do not add the milk and flour mixture until 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve. Then turn heat to high and allow soup to thicken.
'Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.