An Ordinary Red Brick Church
The red bricks of the old church building are weathered and worn by decades of wind-shaping as the breezes blow off the Appalachian Mountains into “The Valley,” that is, Draper’s Valley, Virginia, settled in the 18th century by determined Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, eager to gain land, equally eager to gather to worship.
Largely nameless to us today, these pioneers met with Christians of other denominations in “Old Harmony Church” until 1832. Then a critical mass of Presbyterians gathered the fortitude and labor to build their own building, eventually molding the local red clay into the building still used by Draper’s Valley PCA (DVPCA) today.
Founding pastor Rev. George Painter, whose great, great granddaughter is the senior church member today, formed a congregation that met within the sturdy brick walls to sing, pray, celebrate the sacraments and listen to the word of God preached. Modern features replace the hand-hewn wooden benches, gas lights and coal stoves but the brick walls are largely unchanged as are the ordinary practices of the ordinary Christians who gather under the ordinary means of grace.
187 years of doing the same thing – unheard of in our day. A local business proudly proclaims, “Doing the same thing for 22 years” but they are newcomers, Johnny-come-latelies. The good folks of DVPCA continue the practices of their brothers and sisters of long ago in this valley, reaching back to their Scottish homeland, and even further to the book of Acts: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
‘New and Improved’ it is not. ‘Cutting edge’, ‘radical’, ‘missional’ do not apply. But what is ‘biblical’, ‘ordinary’ and ‘full of grace’ soothes and animates our souls. We come each week to the same place as our forefathers and mothers. We come with the same hopes and expectations; that the God-ordained means will change us in God-ordained ways so that we will grow and mature into God-honoring servants that reflect his mercy to us and his presence in us.
We stand in the hope articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (14:1), “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.”
So, while the noise and glitter, entertainment and lightness of worldly thinking and practice have brazenly entered the post-modern Church, we at DVPCA believe it is right, godly and holy to be satisfied with the same means used for centuries Draper’s Valley and throughout Christ’s Church.
Thus, on the Lord’s Day; Mothers still straighten children’s clothing, brushing off the mud of the churchyard. Fathers still talk of farming (now tractor horsepower instead of horse horsepower). The elders pray with the preacher, the deacons greet and settle the congregation, the gathered folks stand in expectation, the call to worship is given and we worship.
Sin is confessed, outwardly and inwardly. The glorious gospel is announced with the assurance of forgiving grace and once again, hope springs in forgiven hearts. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are sung to God. Offerings are prayerfully given. The word is preached, the benediction is given, and we linger; eager to greet our brothers and sisters.
It is simple yet profound. It is dignified, yet full of squirming (and not just the toddlers). Our sin is confronted, spiritual toes are stepped upon, but God’s rich, abundant mercy and grace is declared, hope for the sinner offered and tears of sorrow and joy furrow our cheeks. We are satisfied, we are fed, we are nourished as the Spirit moves among us and we are addressed by the Word; heart and soul.
Wonderfully, the very remedy we need, the promise of hope we long for, is found in the exact pattern and plan prescribed by our Savior. His word proscribes all other means and points us to his prescription for sin-sick souls; the glorious Gospel declared, delivered and dispensed through the ordinary means of grace. By these means God makes himself accessible to sinners. Here we meet him in certain, satisfying, specific ways of his own design. Were we to devise our own ways to try and commune with God we would be no better than Babel builders.
Having gathered, we depart to our homes, many having traveled long distances just to be with the saints before the throne. For sadly, more than one person has said, “there is nothing like this for miles around.” We will gather again that evening, on Wednesday night and Lord willing, next Sunday morning. We expect to be lifted into the heavenlies. We know from previous Sabbaths that we will grow by the word of God; preached, read, sung, prayed and displayed to our feeble, weak souls in the sacraments.
Are we culturally irrelevant, mindless of present realities? In some ways, yes. For in our worship we are looking past the present into the future reality of Kingdom glory when all that is now present will be seen to be what it really was, a means by which we were shaped and sanctified for the eternal. Yet now, by our willingness to engage in the means of God’s choosing; to meet with him, to attend upon his word, to be changed by the Spirit, we are more culturally relevant, more present in this day than those who dismiss such simple means.
“Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame…from everlasting thou art God, to endless years the same.” The hills surrounding Draper’s Valley PCA are silent witnesses of generations of worshippers, gathering at an ordinary red brick building to worship the unchanging, Almighty God. It is he who has determined how to approach him in worship, and how he will call us to himself and how we will grow in grace. May his means be our means, and may we be well satisfied in them, and even more, in him.