The Old Shoes Never Fit So Fine

As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

–C.S. Lewis

This is the Roanoke Church of Christ, the congregation where I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. As is our custom, we visited and worshiped there during our recent trip to Virginia. I can remember many a Sunday evening before the second service of the day, hanging (sometimes literally) with my buddies on that front porch:


As you can see, the paint is peeling and the church is pretty old.

How old? Check it out:


Now that’s old.

And so are most of the saints worshiping there today (their paint is peeling too). They number only 50-60 on a typical Sunday now, mostly the same folks who were there 40 years ago when the congregation averaged 175-200, their children having either left the building, left town, or left church altogether.

We noticed something refreshing and a bit old-fashioned, though, during our worship there last Sunday: The utter unpretentiousness of it all.

Simple songs (both old and new), heartfelt prayers which contained no infomercials, announcements or long-winded commentaries, scripture readings galore (imagine that!), a culturally-relevant message which encouraged (rather than scolded) everyone to season the earth with the salt of Christ, and, of course, the Lord’s Supper.

And since they weren’t broadcasting over the internet and didn’t have to worry about “dead air,” there were even extended periods of–get this!–quiet.

No “hey, check us out” hype, no stylized, over-produced operatic drama, no mention of the corporate brand every 30 seconds, and, praise be to God, no PowerPoint slides.

I suppose there’s a reasonable chance that in 10-15 years they will all be gone and another group of Christians will have purchased the building, renovated it, moved the altar out of sight and added a big screen up front, and generally made it all comfy and cozy for young, 21st century families to raise their own children “in the Lord.”

More power to them, I guess.

As for me, I’ll likely shed a tear or two of nostalgia when that happens. But there will be no shame, no tsk-tsk at the church who failed to “get with the times,” adopt a corporate GROWTH strategy and finally “died” of old age.

For they will have served their purpose and attended to the most important thing: Enduring to the end, remaining forever faithful to Christ and to each other in this long, messy, slog of a march toward home.

The old shoes never fit so fine.

  1. ME

    If you send me the original of that AD 33 sign, I’ll add it to my collection.

    I have seven photos of church signs now and I think I’m going to go ahead and set up a gallery on Flickr.

    Your memories of your early church life remind me a lot of my own in Delaware in the 1960s-70s.

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    I was wondering when I took that if you were still collecting those. Consider it done!

    Yeah, I think CoCs in the upper South and Northeast have a lot in common in terms of both size and temperament. I’m still trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to adjust to the mega-Deep South variety.

  3. Stoogelover

    Other than your utter disdain for PowerPoint slide (bless your heart), I thought this was a great blog! I don’t like or dislike PP slides and used them when I was preaching but I’ve seen some really bad presentations that should have turned me against them forever.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    Same here. It has it’s place, of course, but it’s no substitute for substance.

  5. bpb

    I can deal with the PowerPoint slides. I hate the songs on the walls though.

  6. swallison

    I think I attended that church once back in the spring of 1979. My wife and my parents were coming back from Charlottesville on our way back home to Knoxville when we stopped for Sunday evening service. We walked in during the song and the song leader, a guy named Kenny, had a big smile because he recognized us. He had moved a year or two earlier from Ch’ville. Can’t remember his last name but he had a son at Harding in the early 80’s who was in the A Cappella chorus that visited our Oak Ridge church say about ’84. Two of Dwight and Barbara Smith’s sons spent the night with us and were part of the chorus too. Maybe they are a little before your time at Harding.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    Hi Steve, thanks for stopping by and and welcome!

    I was probably there. The song leader you’re thinking of was Ken Martin (he passed away a couple of years ago), and his son was Ken Martin, Jr. I also knew both of Dwight and Barbara Smith’s sons at Harding (I was there from ’80-’84).

    Do you know my brother-in-law Jason Gentry? He’s from Knoxville, went to Lipscomb and is now an OB/GYN doc married to my younger sister, Melanie.

  8. swallison


    I don’t recall having met your sister and brother-in-law. Maybe it will come to me later. We attended the West End CofC for twenty years and the last two years we have been with the Hardin Valley CofC. I understand that Barbara Smith died of cancer not too long ago. I spent the summer of ’72 on Campaigns Northeast with Owen Olbricht and we spent three weeks in New Jersey working with a church there. I stayed with the Smiths for those three weeks. The guys were pretty young then. I remember a sister too. I was at Harding 68-72. Speaking of Lipscomb, my younger son is there, a junior, and I’m very pleased with the education, in various dimensions, he is receiving.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’m not sure which congregation Jason grew up in, but he lived on the west side of town.

    You may know Jerry Anderson from Roanoke. He was at Harding about your time and played football.

    I’ve been very impressed with what Randall Lowery is doing at Lipscomb. I think there’s a reasonably good chance that one or both of my two younger sons will end up there. My oldest is a sophomore at Bama.

  10. jduckbaker

    You know our families have a lot in common. We love a simple, direct, full of scripture, focused on God, moved by the Spirit, liturgical worship time that allows us to continually worship throughout the week.

    I just have to say that not all young families are looking for “comfy and cozy” in the way you describe. My younger brother (in his early 20s) converted to the Catholic church because of his love of the mystery of God and the dislike of what was going on in other churches. My younger sister was brought to the Lord through relationship and study, not powerpoint and happy-clappyness (she disdained and couldn’t understand christianese). We are part of a congregation that uses a lot of litergy, the youth pastor read the whole Sermon on the Mount last Sunday, and we do use powerpoint (which I agree can be distracting).

    Just know that it is not just young families demanding this. There are thoughtful, young Christians who want more than this. They are asking for it. But some are brought up in families or places that don’t encourage it, or even recognize that there is more.

    We pray for you and your family in your frustration. It’s not a fun way to live- nor is it good for your spirit. We pray God will give you the place to worship that is not a distraction, but is only a way to see Him more clearly and dearly and nearly.


  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    Jenn, thanks for those good thoughts and points. You’re right, much of the renewed interest in traditional liturgy and “ancient-future” forms of worship is coming from people in their 20s and 30s, and I don’t mean to paint with too broad a stroke.

    I think many people, young, middle and old, simply get used to dry toast that they’ve always been fed and simply don’t know (or want) anything else. For those that do, expressing their thoughts and frustration is nigh unto impossible as any peep is branded as “naysaying” and they quickly learn that speaking out is an exercise in futility.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Like animals during a drought, Eyegal and I are learning where to locate the best sources of water.

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