Up from the Ashes

For months, plans had been afoot to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Zion Baptist Church. In 1837, Victoria was crowned queen, Van Buren was inaugurated as President, Michigan became a state, Chicago was incorporated, and a deed was granted to rural Zion Church. Daddy served as its pastor during my childhood years. Rural Zion Community became home to three sisters joined by a fourth who was born there. Collectively, we were “The McGee Girls.”

Part of the advance preparation by the anniversary committee included a call out for written memories to be included in an anniversary book. My sisters graciously allowed me to write the one from our family. I marked the date , July 14-15, on my calendar and began a waiting-for-Christmas type countdown, turning down several events that would have interfered. My excitement was tempered only slightly by recollection of Thomas Wolfe’s premise, “You can’t go home again.” Could that really be true?

My countdown had reached ten on July 4 when we got an email from our niece, “I saw on the news that Zion Church sustained fire damages this afternoon.” Thanks to Internet searching, we quickly learned that lightning had struck the sanctuary and destroyed the building before fire fighters from several communities could put it out. Other buildings had been saved.

Word came on the heels of that news that the celebration would be held as planned. They would use the remaining fellowship hall and a rented tent. Funeral home type fans marking the occasion would try to make up for no air-conditioning in temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.

As people gathered this past Saturday, sadness over a lost building was overshadowed by renewed friendships and recollections of good people and good times from the past. My sister Gwyn and I joined our compatriots in conversations that typically began with childhood memories and ended with how many grandchildren we had now. The most common question I fielded was, “Now, which one of the McGee Girls are you?” and the most common comment was, “You look just like your mother.”

Strangely, the weather cooperated with temperatures that skirted 90 instead of 100, breezes that precede threatening weather, and the week-long pattern of heavy rain abating until the tent events were over each day.

The celebration ended Sunday with a typical Zion potluck spread on jam-packed long tables filled with Southern food from the past. Besides the inevitable fried chicken, I spotted ham-and-egg pie, chicken and dressing, garden vegetables, stuffed eggs, pear salad, and a table of desserts that included my favorite chocolate meringue pie.

Looking down that long table and relishing the two days of commemoration, I came to two conclusions. (1) Zion Baptist Church will rise again from the ashes. (2) Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.