Aside from several occasions as a child and a couple of hairy nights as a knob at The Citadel, I've really never experienced gut wrenching fear. It's not that I've got an extra measure of courage, but more that I've lived a relatively pampered, safe life. The only times I've ever been genuinely afraid as an adult involved things that happened at church. The most notable occurred one morning before services at Hampton Heights Baptist Church, Greenville, South Carolina. I was privileged to serve as Pastor from 1986 until 2001, and they were fifteen really blessed years. But, one Sunday morning something happend that scared the daylights out of me.
Usually on Sunday mornings, just minutes prior to entering the worship center for the 11:00 a.m. service, I would duck into the men's changing room, back stage for a pit stop and to make sure my tie was straight. To enter the small men's room I had to pass by the changing cubicles where men prepared for baptism.
On this particular Sunday I noticed a pair of feet sticking our from under the swinging door of one of the changing cubicles. It was instantly frightening. In a cold sweat, I entered the men's room on the run, slammed the door behind me and locked it in record speed. My heart was racing. Someone was hiding in that cubicle waiting to kill me. A serial killer had escaped from prison and had taken refuge in our church. A madman was waiting to cut my throat.
Of course, it was before cell phones and there was no way I could make myself heard in that remote room. The only weapons I had were my Bible, my sermon notes, and the luxurious Mont Blanc fountain pen a generous church member had given me. I waited as long as I could, knowing the service would begin in just a few minutes before holding the pen, with the cover removed, as a sword to take on the fiend waiting in that changing cubicle. I said a short prayer, stormed out the door, flung open the door to the cubicle.
My baptismal hip boots were hanging just inside that door and the feet had protruded under the door to scare me into the rapture. I felt a little foolish having allowed those boots to spook me like they did.
Of course, I never went back there again except when we were celebrating the ordinance of baptism, and I knew the people in those cubicles.
The often repeated promise, "Fear not, I am with thee..." took on a whole new role in my life, and I still keep that Mont Blanc pen handy just in case.
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