It was a strange Sunday morning at Chenal Valley Baptist Church, but no one seemed to want to talk about it.
Worshippers sang, “Yes, Lord, yes, I will trust you and obey.” Pastor Tom Mitchell invited everyone to attend the Memorial Day picnic for some of the best banana pudding ever. He encouraged all to “protect the families of the poor” and oppose attempts to create a lottery in Arkansas. About 10 men and women — from about 40 gathered to worship — hurried to shake hands with a guest.
Before asking worshippers to join her in “The Lily of the Valley,” song leader Amy Ford broke the silence.
“Well,” she said, “I've got to say something. This is the first time I've ever had a traffic cop direct me into our parking lot.”
Their church, at 1800 Rahling Road for five years, was now in the shadow of Fellowship Bible Church. Hundreds of cars had lined up to attend Fellowship's inaugural services across the street, and most drivers ignored the Baptist church in a modest building with three large crosses jutting from its rocky hill.
“I pray the Lord will touch their hearts [at Fellowship], and I know the Lord is with us here, too,” Ford said.
Mitchell, 61, kept his jacket buttoned during his sermon. He proclaimed lessons of the Bible written 2,000 years ago apply today and forever.
“Jesus didn't practice what he preached. He preached what he practiced,” he said.
By name, Mitchell mentioned several church members as examples of God's gifts and grace. He asked “Brother Howard” in the back row how long he had been “saved.” “Seventy-five years,” a dapper, elderly man in the back row replied, prompting a few hearty amens.
Mitchell talked briefly about the commotion across the street. Laughter erupted when he joked how he and another early arriving churchgoer considered putting up a sign to direct overflow parking from Fellowship Bible into their parking lot.
“We're not in competition with them,” he said, and everyone should pray for their success.
To close, the pastor invited anyone to approach him at the front of the church if he or she were interested in giving “all of your dreams, aspirations, prejudices, doubts and fears” to God and “committing your heart to the Savior.” The congregation sang one verse of, “I Surrender All.”
No one stepped forward.