Easter came about a month after I arrived at my first church, an average sized congregation in rural South Carolina. Our church was the only one of several SBC churches in that part of the county that had a full-time, if modestly paid minister. My church and three others traditionally joined for an Easter sunrise service at the side of a small farm pond owned by one of the members. A cross was erected by the water, evidently without thought of the crucifixion actually occurring ‘on a hill far away’ as the inspired old hymn goes.
The service was a classic cooperative venture with the four rural churches combining for the event. The preaching duties would rotate but since I was the new guy, the rotation schedule fell to me. Seems like I was the new guy for everything as long as I was at the church. The other three pastors – a former military chaplain, a bivocational school teacher, and a pastor in semi-retirement at a part time church – had about a century of experience among them.
Easter Sunday arrived and I showed up at the site in a suit, no preacher appeared at any kind of service sans coat and tie in those days, very early in the morning. The sunrise service was literally at sunrise, not some arbitrary later hour for the convenience of sleepyhead Baptists. Folks arrived and were milling around saying quiet hellos to each other.
I was waiting for the time to begin the service when one of the deacons in my church, Armand, sidled up to me and muttered in my ear a very important piece of information. Seems the beloved new guy pastor was in the midst of a wardrobe malfunction, wardrobe neglect actually. I think Armand simply said, “You need to zip up.” Obviously I had forgotten the most important piece of advice I had heard from Adrian Rogers who was my pastor for a while. When asked what the most important thing the pastor could do prior to preaching, he said, “Doublecheck your fly.”
I discretely zipped up and thus avoided being referred to by the local folks as, “You know, Preacher Thornton, they guy who did that Easter sunrise service back in ’82…” You get the near disaster.
That’s how Armand made my deacon hall of fame. I later transferred him over to my deacon hall of shame but that’s another story.
The service went smoothly. I stood with my back to the cross and the pond. About the time I started preaching a big bass started splashing around in the shallows. I’d have gone back to catch that big fish but I wasn’t invited.
I’m not much for Easter sunrise services any more but if you have one, remember the most important thing prior to preaching about that important event.