Re-Conversion (Sumner, Illinois, circa 1996)
Sometime in late 1992, I attended a seminar on how to do ministry with Senior Adults held in Peoria, Illinois. There was this feeble, little man who inched up to the platform (like Tim Conway used to do on the “Carol Burnett Show”) and opened the thing up by proclaiming weakly, “God is Good.” The people replied, “All the time” He quietly responded, “All the time” and they politely finished, “God is Good.” I remember thinking to myself, “This is almost cool! I wonder what would happen if living people tried it?” The potential of this greeting captivated me and all I could think about was putting a V10 engine and glass packs on this thing and flooring it the very next week at Sumner. Our first four or five tries the next Sunday morning were a little lame but after that “God is good” became an institution. Every worship service I conducted at the Sumner United Methodist Church began with a rousing, “God is good!” It was a bold and upbeat way to begin our worship services…until that exceptionally cold winter.
It was Advent 1996. Advent in the United Methodist world is a traditional time of preparing our hearts for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas. On Wednesday, Melissa had been informed that our third child, a son we were to call Liam, had died in her womb. Nothing could be done until the next week and Sunday loomed in between. We were devastated. It was as if the best Christmas present in the world had been placed under the tree only to be snatched away in a cruel cosmic joke. Never had I felt so crushed, staggered and utterly…de-converted. All I could think about was the expectation that I would start the worship service with “God is Good!” I had no idea how I would do that. Never had I less perceived God to be good and the prospect of proclaiming it was more than my weary heart could bear.
These were the days before hospital privacy laws and everyone in our “One Casey’s Town” (though we were yet to actually get a Casey’s) knew what was happening. Rural folks know well how to dance with pain and death so they gave us space to hurt and when we walked into the church folks steered clear. On the bulletin were printed the name of Melissa Bishop followed by Shane Bishop. Melissa was scheduled to open by singing a song called “Harmony” with her best friend Sherri Baker about God’s gift of a baby boy to creation. It seemed…ironic. I was to follow with a rousing, “God is good!” I could not possibly imagine how any of that was going to happen.
To my amazement, when the prelude concluded, Melissa (with our dead baby in her stomach) quietly arose from her seat and in beautiful harmony sang of a baby’s arrival long ago. My stolid congregation listened with quivering lips, fighting back uncharacteristic tears as they marveled at the Spirit-energy of this incredible woman temporarily caught between a rock and a holy place. As I sat in awe of Melissa’s inner strength and the sheer power of her spirit, something occurred to me. If God is not good at this very minute; I mean “right now” then He wasn’t good last week and wouldn’t be good a month from now. It was as if God spoke to me, “I am either good or I am not good and you have about thirty seconds to decide.” When the song ended, I walked behind that wooden pulpit and shouted for my soul, “God is Good!” to which the people nearly raised the roof as they replied, “All the Time!” I was re-converted. For the past two decades, I have opened each of our worship services with “God is Good” but never assume it is an easy thing. Sometimes you have to fight for it.
From “Exactly As I Remember It” (2012)
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Ilinois