In 1950 Holy Oak Baptist Church was approaching the 100th anniversary of its founding. Its white clapboard walls and faithful congregants were typical of rural South Georgia. There were a dozen children of various ages, and 50 or so adults who ranged from barely grown to almost gone.
No one was more faithful than Deacon Homer Smith, a silver haired gentleman who had once been a baby at Holy Oak. He’d always done more than his part for the church, mostly because he wanted to, sometimes because no one else was willing.
When the ancient oak tree which Holy Oak was named for toppled over in a storm, Deacon Smith made a beautifully finished pulpit from its massive base. Then he carved an old rugged cross to be hung behind the preacher on the baptistry wall.
Deacon Smith’s wise counsel was valued by the congregation. As he grew older, however, he began keeping his opinions to himself. It was, he believed, time for the mantle of leadership to transition to a younger generation. In January of 1950 he made a private resolution to keep silent in the conferences held each month on the second Sunday.
He made it through several meetings without expressing his views on any matters of business. In the April conference, however, his fortitude was severely tested when Sister Betty Lou Watkins, President of the Women’s Missionary Union, proposed a substantial acquisition.
When the pastor asked if anyone had any new business to bring up, Sister Betty Lou raised her hand. She moved that Holy Oak spend $500 to buy a chandelier. It was the first time Deacon Smith had heard a woman present a motion in conference. He stayed quiet but his heart was racing and his stomach was churning. He knew the Apostle Paul said women should keep silent in church, but he was unsure if that applied to conferences or maybe just preaching.
Multiple opinions were offered by church members during a lively discussion. Some thought a chandelier was a wonderful idea and wanted to get it before the 100-year Homecoming celebration in October. Others thought it was a complete waste of money. Two men with opposite views each said they were certain of God’s will in the matter. The chandelier became a divisive issue in a place where unity had long been the norm. That’s when Deacon Smith stood up to speak.
“For the past few months, I’ve kept my opinions to myself,” he said, “because I feel like it’s time for me to step aside on items of church business. But I can’t sit quietly in the pew today.”
With the kind spirit he was known for Deacon Smith continued. “I’ve listened carefully to every comment, and I have no doubt they’ve been said with good intentions. But I honestly don’t believe our church needs a chandelier. We don’t need to spend that kind of money to buy a chandelier. We don’t have a good place to put a chandelier. And we don’t have a single member in our congregation who knows how to play a chandelier.”
He looked around the sanctuary as he paused to gather his thoughts. His heart was warmed by pleasant expressions. Scowls of contention had given way to radiant smiles. “This church doesn’t need a chandelier,” he added with confidence and conviction. “What this church needs is some better lighting!”
Sister Betty Lou Watkins withdrew her motion and offered to help investigate the lighting issue. Deacon Homer Smith moved to authorize the W.M.U. to spend up to $500 for whatever kind of fixtures they could agree on. And the smiling congregation of Holy Oak Baptist Church knew one thing with absolute certainty. Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Footnote: “The Chandelier” was one of many humorous stories told by the late comedian Jerry Clower. He was a master of clean comedy and a fine Christian gentleman. I don’t think he would mind my sharing a new version of his old story, but someday I’ll ask him. I expect to see Jerry in a place where there’s no need for chandeliers. The light from the Son is more than enough.