April 1998 — When I visualize the New Heavens and New Earth, part of it looks a lot like Birmingham, Alabama in the Spring. Verdant mountains covered with old growth hardwood trees and adorned with luxuriant azaleas have it all over golden streets in this man’s imagination. Then there are the people. These are special people, to be sure — disciples of Jesus who make up the Campus Church of Christ where I was privileged to speak four times on Saturday and again on Sunday morning.
There were Frank and Lila Sutton, my gracious hosts, and hosts to countless others through the years who for a variety of reasons needed their hospitality. Frank is a physician and an elder in the church, who also leads a nondenominational Thursday morning men’s Bible study at a local restaurant — and has now for 20 years. Fellow-elder Mitch Grubb is chief operating officer of the K-12 Christian school operated by the church, which provides the church its meeting-place and its name. Mitch is an able Bible teacher and song leader, and he and his wife Martha both personify a servant’s heart, fulfilling the most menial tasks with enthusiasm and grace.
The church also includes Samuel, a 75-year-old, blind, African-American gentleman who for many years begged on a street corner in Birmingham. A disciple from Campus Church befriended him and invited him to her church where he came to know Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, and found a family of faith. Another Frank is there, too, in his wheelchair, with a smile and a good word for everyone who meets him. Hans is present — when he is not in Ukraine or Russia or Czech Republic preaching Christ. I chatted with David, a Nigerian by birth, with whom I had attended college more than 30 years ago. Mark McGuire grew up in the church’s school and now serves as its preaching minister. Assistant minister Tracey Hebert is gifted in administration. Dozens of other singles and couples, young and old, mutually support and inspire each other in this multi-racial church deep in the heart of Dixie.
A visitor to the Campus Church quickly hears this congregation’s heartbeat — it is one of serving, caring, healing, accepting, and sharing the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ at home and around the world. Paradise will not have tornadoes, as Birmingham recently did — but these people of God gave a generous offering for the storm’s devastated victims and provide ongoing prayers and care.
This weekend was the church’s Homecoming, which meant I not only spoke but also got to hear sermons from its two former ministers — Will McSweeney (Anglo), who now ministers in Kentucky, and Fred McClure (African-American), who resigned from Campus Church’s pulpit to lead an inner-city ministry in Birmingham. Both presented inspiring messages. The Campus Church is people of all sorts, gathered from across human categories of race, class, culture and language — united at the Cross, made one in Jesus, filled with his Spirit, committed to serving God and fellow humans in need. Come to think of it, maybe THAT was most like heaven after all.