His mercy seat


Peter Gabriel’s voice sang low and pleading, the words “mercy, mercy, looking for mercy….” (Mercy Street, 1986) It’s a lovely and haunting melody that conveys the heart that searches for compassion, desperate for forgiveness when none is deserved. Mercy.

The Psalmist pleads for mercy over and over as did Job when he said “I could only plead for mercy” (Job 9:15)


As a child, I was instructed the altar, the wooden structure with a cushion for the knees, was not a place to play. You didn’t stand on it, run on it or sit on it. You came here to kneel and pray. This was serious business when you come in front of the congregation to kneel at this place. At times, my parents called it the mercy seat.

I didn’t know what mercy was, but I knew it was serious. It was personal stuff and some people cried when they knelt and prayed but they all seemed to feel better after spending time at this mercy seat. Some of them scared me as a child, their emotions so……loud. But mostly, folks were quiet when they knelt there.


We don’t call it the mercy seat much these days but it is. I know God’s mercy isn’t confined to a particular place but I love the symbolism of it. The tangible where we can physically bow our bodies and heart, humble and quiet ourselves to beg of God, “have mercy on me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1). Psalm 25:16, “Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress.”

Mercy, that which isn’t earned or deserved…compassion in our need.


It’s the close of another service. The message ended with a compelling video that described who God is and asked “I wonder, do you know him?” Henry knelt at the alter asking those who wanted to come pray with him. And I saw Lloyd. In his chair, at the end of the row next to a window, he got out of his chair, turned and knelt. Right there. It was one of those moments I wanted to photograph, not with a camera because it would be one dimensional. No photo could show the meaning of this simple motion. My heart has captured it and replayed it. To see his tall frame, dark skin and bright smile, quietly slip out of his seat, turn and kneel, head bowed over that chair. His mercy seat.

It’s how our services end each Sunday, with Henry asking, “Pray with me?” and with more men going forward than is room at our Mercy Seat so they crowd around and make their own space. Some kneeling at their chairs, some standing in the back, a visual sign of unity in prayer.

God’s mercy is free and freely given.

Shalene and Freddy

We came as visitors, in town for a pastors conference. We gathered at a true community center for Sunday morning church.

Her name was Shalene. Her hard ‘r’s’ and sweet tea accent made me think she’s native to this part of Georgia. She took the stage to lead the Praise and Worship part of the service. The name the church has given to songs played more on guitar than keys, where words are repeated and hands lifted.

I wondered if she was nervous. There were at least 50 uniformed visitors seated in front of her today, a good bit of us strangers I’d guess. But then we think the uniform makes us family and not strange, not in that sense of the word.

Her spirit of enthusiasm captured me as she led these two familiar songs wholeheartedly. I’m not sure how anyone could help but be compelled by her sincerity.





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There was the usual stuff that makes up our style of church meeting: hymn songs, scripture verses read, the collection plates passed through the aisles.

Not so typical in some denominations is the brass band. This smallish town had put together a nice little band, a few of the visitors sitting in to fill out the sound.

On ‘Happy Song’ a woman a couple of rows in front of us trilled the tambourine she was holding. I recognized the experienced way she held it, only letting the heel of her hand, that part of the lower thumb just above the wrist touch the hide of the instrument. She played it in the right spots and kept in still in the others. A pro knows when and when not.

A friend/co-worker/pastor/officer gave the sermon. He’d been here before. This was once his town to pastor and be the face of The Salvation Army. He’s a tall, southern speaking man himself with a voice as deep as a barrel and heart as big with a softened patina. ‘He done good’, they’d say.

The screen flashed the name “Freddy” someone was going to give the benediction. The man I’d only seen from behind as he waved the conductor’s baton leading the band, shuffled to the podium. He had to be in his 70’s I decided and his gait not one of ease.

“We love you Lord”, he started the prayer, “And we’re just so thankful you love us too.”

We don’t get to this part of the south much and maybe that’s how these folks are made up here. Their hearts are open and their words spilling such warmth and love all over us.

I was taken in by Shalene and Freddy. Blessed by these two everyday folks not part of a ministerial team but whose lives are about serving with a joy that is worn as new garments, all clean and begging one to ask, “Where you’d get that?”, because you wanted to wear it too.


his is also The Salvation Army. Serving in places like Augusta, Georgia where every day folks take up the task of following Jesus and leading the way to joy.

Throwback Thursday {1980}

our babies; Tarquin, Fetz, Brockman, Durr, Wadenpfulh, Smith

1980 A modest church growth explosion courtesy of our young marrieds.

I love looking at this picture because it brings back memories of a special time in our lives. Our co-pastor at that time calls it their Camelot. These babies and preschooler’s remind me of the bonds of friendship shared and how it was expressed in fellowship with each other. We had bible studies in our homes, cookouts in the summer and a Christmas party where I tried requesting “no jeans” and took a lashing for that. When Ken showed up in his Orchestra tuxedo tails it was all worth it.

That’s our boy on the front row in blue. One of the three born in 1980 in that group. Our daughter in the back to the left of the blonde, the girl she always looked up to like an older sister. Julie was a lifeguard so Heather wanted to be a lifeguard. Julie played volleyball so Heather would play volleyball. Thank God Julie was, still is, a good role model putting God first in her life.

Hudson, Fetz, Wadenpfuhl

We parented each others littles and our foundation in community was being set.

And then someone moved, and another and another. A couple drifted away and the rest of us held close together. New people came along but it was never the same kind of bond. It was like a recipe you’d always made with butter but now margarine was being added. On the surface, you’d think it would be the same but it wasn’t. We weren’t the same. You can’t be the same when you’ve been fractured.

FtLauderdale corps 1980's

Our ministry group with our pastors. I’m pretty hard to find so good luck.

The years have spread us all apart and few of us keep in touch. Were it not for Facebook and social media I doubt there’d be much contact between us. The years that have come between aren’t easily closed. Our lives have taken us in different directions though one thing I know (with the exception of one family who we’ve all lost track of) we’ve spent our lives following God. It looks different for each of us. We go to different churches, serve in different ways. But we serve the same God who brought us together for a few short years and built within us a foundation that has been shaken but not broken. Tried but strengthened and better for it all.

An old-fashioned invitation

We’re sort of old-fashioned that way. The way we close our Sunday worship time with an invitation to pray. Not the sit-in-your-seat-heads-bowed-eyes-closed kind of prayer. Well, that, yes, but also the kind of prayer that brings some people to the front of the chapel to kneel before God and their peers. That kind of old-fashioned invitation that isn’t always common these days. It’s not easy to make that walk. The one that has you making your way across the legs of the others on your row to walk down the aisle and lower your body in that position of humility that is nothing but strong.



praying 6663


We came up this way, my husband and I. I remember daddy leading that final song on Sunday morning, so often it was ‘Just As I Am’ or “Have Thine Own Way”. The annual youth weekends with several hundred teenagers always had that Sunday morning altar call. We knew it was going to last for-ever and tried to volunteer someone to go forward to get this thing started because no one was leaving this room until someone went to that altar!

It was the same way at summer camp and Men’s camp and Women’s weekend: come, come forward and pray. 

In the traditional church setting weeks could go by with no one coming forward or the one little old person who knelt every week. But it’s different in this community of men fighting addictions of all kind. There is no hesitation when the word is given to come forward and pray for others, for yourself, bring your troubles and joys to God, here. At this mercy-seat.




And they do. One after the other. I figure some are doing it thinking it might score some kind of points with “the Major”. It’s more show than heart but that’s not my concern. God will sort that out.

It was one of those weeks and Michael said it after the service when he turned to me and said, “There was power in here today”. Yes, there was. I felt it when the one I didn’t know stood to give testimony of God using another man to keep him from temptation. I felt the power in his weak voice as he struggled to tell of his fight for sobriety and I felt the power when so many men came forward to pray there was no room at the altar but they came anyway. That one came, on the platform to kneel, off to the side where a rail was covering some instruments. Another came with no place left to lean, and simply knelt in the middle of the floor. That position that could look weak to some, the body lowered to the floor, screams strength to me. God’s strength enabling them to bow without shame, and call on God.

Our prayers are heard from any position. Eyes open or closed. Head bowed or raised. Standing or sitting. Whispered or yelled or sung or silent. I’ve heard a man who would get overcome with laughter at times during prayer and John, John signs his spoken prayers.

Yes, there’s power when there’s prayer. All the time. All the time.

Such Extravagance

Church. The building, not the people. Church in a rented space in a strip mall; in a very old two-story house with peeling linoleum floors and creaking stairs. Once our church had been a funeral home, a place to remember the dead and now, it was a place to raise the dead in spirit.


Holy Land Tour  Greek Orthodox church


Holy Land Tour



Our church buildings have seldom looked like a church. No steeples or tall spires. Some had folding chairs rather than pews. The look almost always, sparse. Modest. A pulpit, a table called the “holiness” table and always, always, always, the mercy-seat. The altar. The place to humble yourself before God in prayer.

We were walking through the Vatican in Rome several years ago. Our tour group moving too fast for me to take in all the beauty. The ornate detailing and art wasn’t just in the Vatican but, it seemed, in every cathedral in Rome. Gold, marble floors and marble sculptures and stained glass that streamed light in a way it seemed heaven was shining  right down. It was a lot. Too much, I thought. I would have sided with Judas when he chastised Mary for using expensive perfume to pour on the feet of Jesus. Such extravagance, wasted, when it could have been used to feed the poor.

Holy Land Tour

Henry's iPhone pics

Israel tour


Last month we were in Israel and again, the churches were magnificent. The chandeliers dripped from the ceilings in the Greek Orthodox churches as gold painted frames hung heavy with paintings centuries old. I’ve been in museums with less. This wasn’t modern culture but the ancient traditions carried on. In days long ago when people lived spartan lives this was their church. I didn’t get it. It seemed to gloat in the face of their lack.

This was their museum, she said. Their education. This was their solace, their sanctuary from the day-to-day. Our tour guide was smart, this one. As she instructed us in the less obvious.


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Holy Land Tour

We had seen the dryness of the surrounding desert. We had glimpsed the nomadic life of the Bedouins and remember at one time, in that time, there was little beauty and much toil. I could see the dirt floors and imagine the smells of sweat that couldn’t be washed off with a daily shower. How the dust must harden like a scab and the escape the beauty of this house of God would offer. To know this beauty was lavished on you by a loving God. Yes, that is comfort from a hard life. That is worship.

I was critical of beauty being displayed in church. I was ignorant of the importance of that beauty. Of what it communicates about God, about his loving nature, his pleasure and joy to share such artistry. I failed to get how His story is told in the stained glass images. The Gospel message in pictures because few could read the words from the text.

Times are different. We are different. Not better, not worse, just different. The stories of our faith are told through multi-media. Projected on a screen, played from the stage by the worship band. Coming together still provides the solace from the week. Not the dusty grime of old but a calm for the harried pace of working parents just trying to get from Sunday to Sunday where they can exhale for a couple of hours.

The beauty once found in the buildings must now be carried in us. His beauty, in us. His radiance in kindness shown. His colors shown in our laughter and tears. We use to sing this old chorus that tells the true story:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me”

To the West Coast Neices

Your mama posted that picture on Facebook. The one of you with your parents and standing with and Papa Sargent holding the ceremony book. Another event from your life I’ve missed because of the miles and miles in between.

So now you are Senior Soldiers in your church. It’s a big step to sign that Covenant, the promises you’re making but you girls have lived those out already. You’ve been taught well. You’ve spent summers with your Auntie watching her organize a day camp for kids and the after school program she ran helping to make a difference in the lives of others.



Your grandma Hunter (in her better days), uncle Paul and aunt Dawn.

Your grandma Hunter (in her better days), uncle Paul and aunt Dawn.

You’ve lived most of your short lives next door to a Grandma who was tireless in her service to God. You were her Sunbeams and she was proud of you girls. She loved hearing you sing, Jordan, and Maddie, oh Maddie she would be so proud to see and hear you play the piano. I know she would. Even in her dementia, her not knowing you, you visit her and help bring smiles to her face. That’s love girls, because you’ve been loved your whole life.

You had what few have when your great-grandparents moved there and, again, showed you what commitment and faithfulness looked like. You have been in the midst of God’s Soldiers working and serving and loving. And now, you’ve made a public declaration you want to be part of this Army. The world needs this kind of Army. The kind whose fight is done with service to others, giving glory to God.

In concert with Phil Laeger


But listen to me girls, this Army is just one of many parts of God’s Kingdom. His workers are many and the most important thing isn’t what you wear to church on Sunday but what you wear in your hearts every day. That’s the most important thing you’ve seen in your family. This is the real covenant to sign. This isn’t about what you do Sunday morning or if you join the band or wave a tambourine but how you live everyday. This is about allowing God to be present in all of your life, to show His presence by how you treat others. It’s about smiling at those who need to see your light today and slowing down to listen to the old person that talks soooo sloooowww.

This Army isn’t perfect, but you know that. You haven’t even graduated school and the future may take you to different places and different churches, if you can imagine that. But this Army needs you. This Army needs your willingness to be part of its mission to meet human need without discrimination and do this in the name of God. It needs you to sing and play the piano and help at Christmas with the food boxes. It needs you to carry on the work however that will look.

The Army may not always be where you find yourselves on Sunday mornings, but it will always be your home. It will always be a mission you are part of because you have been called by God to be part of His service to others. Remember that word, girls: OTHERS.

When They Don’t Follow

I’m feeling a bit lost these days. It’s me, but maybe you too.

See, this church I’ve been in my whole life, the one my parents ministered in and their parents, the church that is very much about family because we are a small group of people so we cling to each other and hope the next generation will follow. But ours didn’t.

Our two who were active in youth group and were part of the regional music groups and went to camps and made their friends with others in this church, our kids who bore the rank of 4th Generation Salvationists, they don’t go to this church anymore. And sometimes, it makes me feel they are forgotten.

my dedication

my dedication

With our two at our son's dedication.

With our two at our son’s dedication.

wearing her daddy's tunic

wearing her daddy’s tunic

I see the Facebook posts of their peers who have carried on the tradition and I see the comments, “so proud of our former camp staff kids” and I hear the people asking about these kids but they don’t ask about ours. They’ve become invisible to this group. At times I feel like others think they aren’t Christians anymore because they’ve chosen another church. I know that isn’t true. I’m sure the issue is more of not knowing what to say because all some of us know is this church.

It’s not good friends. It’s not good to be so insular and isolated. It’s not good when all we can talk about with each other is who might get transferred and what a good officer someone is becoming. We even talk in a language that has to be translated to “regular” folk. We talk about corps, and officers and TYI, FMI, DHQ and THQ. We have this whole ranking system of titles that is meaningless outside of our little world and I won’t use the “c” word it can come close to appearing to some.

A conversation I had with our daughter when she was teenager often comes back to me. One when I said it wasn’t important that she continued in this church but that she continued to follow God. She does. She serves him and worships with others in a church that believes in One God, the Trinity, and the Redemption of Man. She loves God. As does our son. And they are proud of their Salvation Army roots. They just go to another church. And when that happens, we lose interest. We lose words to say or to ask. They’ve become invisible not wearing the uniform some of their peers have been called to wear.

family christmas

family christmas

Shame on us. Shame on me for the times I have failed to ask my friends about their children who have chosen another path. Shame on me for not opening myself up to others. OTHERS, the very word that has tremendous meaning in our group, yet I’ve failed to let it represent the very “others” I know.

I’m at a loss. I don’t have an answer because sometimes there are no answers for feelings and maybe it’s just my feelings. I think that it’s more but right now, it’s just that. So I’ll just say I’ll try to do better on my end. I’ll try to remember your family who I don’t see at the Congresses and Councils. I’ll try to remember to ask about them and I’ll know, really know, that they are okay. They are not invisible. Not to Him.

Always and again, enough.

It seems to happen this time of year. I didn’t realize it at first, not in the midst of a week that was getting worse by the day. It’s not always the same pattern but after the holidays, when the days are good and full and people are joyful and we celebrate losing few men from the program, when we slow to catch our breath at the start of a new year and think “Whew! we made it”, it happens. The “bug” gets shared and one by one people are sick and coughing and you keep the hand sanitizer close. Then the unexpected loss comes and one is grieving and another numb and a relapse after two years of recovery and it’s a friend and the week just sucks.

Yeah, that happens every year ’round this time and it will happen again. Income tax returns will start to arrive and men will leave with that bit of money in their pockets, money that won’t pay child support or a good haircut but money that will turn into a serpent hissing to them that they can do it just once. Just one drink, one hit and then they can stop. This time.

As a young co-worker said to me “It’s recovery. We deal with that on a weekly basis.” I’m the one who should tell him that. I’m the one doing this for 10 years but he’s the one living with addiction. He’s the one who really knows.

So I railed against it. I whined to a friend and shook my head in despair but that’s not how God saw it. That’s not how he answered my tender heart.

You did it: you changed wild lament
    into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
    and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
    I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
    I can’t thank you enough.” Psalm 30:11-12

near Ponte Vedra beach

My friend had these words on her blog and the despair started to lift. Another friend had them on her Facebook and God often has to repeat himself to get my attention.

I drove to Sunday morning service with expectancy in my heart but who can ever expect what God pours out?

It was a Sunday where men would be invited to share a testimony. We sang a verse of a familiar hymn and they were invited to share and twenty minutes later men were still testifying of God’s goodness. Of His provision, of a new life, new perspective, of a way through the hard times. Their words flew to my heart like arrows and struck that spot that only God can pierce and turned my lament into whirling dance and together a sermon was preached through them. God’s spirit living in us and spilling out – He is enough. Always and again, enough.

The tune of God

I come to the garden alone….”

In Memphis, the men sang this song full-out. They moved with the waltz tempo and gave heart to the lyrics. I’ve never been able to hear it since leaving that place without hearing Preston’s voice echo in my memory. His falsetto on the chorus and just his love to sing these old church songs.

Music is different here. There’s no Beale Street with musicians on every corner, decent ones too. The men in the ARC here aren’t so familiar with church songs in general and today, when we tried that old standard, “I Come to the Garden”, I shut my mouth and listened. I heard men singing, out of tempo and picking notes not part of the melody or harmony. From my seat in the back, it was a mess. I kept my mouth shut to listen more to this wreck of a congregation choir. And I smiled.

Alumni Sunday

I smiled at their attempt. At their offering, meager as it was, it was offered with heart and sincerity. No doubt it was received in heaven with love and I believe, I really believe that when our voices reach God’s ears He hears it always in perfect tune, the rhythm moving just right. He receives our offerings, the ones given in truth and willingness and sincerity, He takes them as gifts laid on an altar of service and love.

I’m no singer. Not me. The rhythm I’ll have down, every sway and hesitation I’ll feel it, know it. But the tune gets lost in my head without something to guide me. I’m the worst kind of musician who knows just enough to know good from mediocre and worse. Most of the time I sing along in worship but not this day. My silent voice allowed God’s joy to be heard in the barely mediocre singing from a group of men who may miss the notes of the songs, but know the tune of God.

What if we talked about church less and God more?

Our daughter was born on a Saturday. At 8 days old, and to my mother’s protests, she made her first appearance in church.

I never asked mama how many days old I was when she first took me  because it’s always been there. I’ve always been there. It was dinner conversation: what the youth group was doing, who was there and who wasn’t. Youth group hay rides in the fall complete with marshmallow roasts, a trip to see the outdoor Passion Play in Eureka Springs, camps every summer. I learned to set a proper table in scouting group at church and how to sit quietly on Sunday morning and how to be a good church girl. Pastor parents, family on both sides rooted in the same fellowship and church was the center of our lives.

We knew the church talk, what song would probably be sung as the altar call was given and who would be the first to go to the altar – again.

We could win the bible drills and quote the 23 Psalm before we could write our names in cursive.

Then we had kids and we brought them up to be good church kids. They went to the camps and youth weekends and band trips and new the verses better than I did and we were that church family. We were there. We tithed. We taught Sunday school classes and led youth group.

In concert with Phil Laeger

In concert with Phil Laeger

But did I show them what it meant? Did I talk about God more than I talked about the next outing? Did we talk about God’s love for everyone, and how it doesn’t matter if we know the books of the bible if we don’t know Him?

Did we talk about redemption and grace and how singing in the choir is empty if our lives aren’t singing gratitude to him everyday?

We still talk too much about church… the music is better now but the preacher too loud and they just go on and on. And why can’t they ever seem to end the service and who asked that person to sing? And God, God is lost in all the meaningless noise that is me when I am not focused on Him.


Maybe it’s about comfort. People are more comfortable talking about an institution than a sovereign God. It’s easier for me to comment on the music or length of the message than to say how, in spite of the awkward transitions, God’s presence was with me in a such a meaningful way.

I wish I could say this was easy to change. It’s not. In spite of how God is so evident in our times of community worship I still talk about the minutia.  Our kids are doing better than me. They are part of a church because they desire to be part of a larger body of Christ. They’re doing this on their own because they know. And because God is good that way.