When I came to be the pastor of Hope Church in 2007, we were meeting in a rented building behind the Chrysler Jeep dealership. The church owned a wonderful, strategic piece of property on Peace Haven Road. There was a worn sign which said Future Home of Hope Presbyterian Church. One of the questions I got early on from people who had seen the sign was, “Are you ever going to build a building?”
(It’s important to know that the Hope church property had a neighbor named Joy whose home was adjacent)
Recently, I learned about a psychological condition called cherophobia – the fear of joy. People who struggle with this problem become hypervigilant, always waiting for something to go wrong. They cannot see the hope of goodness. They see what can go wrong. As the new pastor at Hope, I soon bumped up against this condition, by way of this neighbor.
Joy first introduced herself to me by phone and let me know she was not happy we were planning to build next to her. She did not want a church building next to her home. She had a list of concerns and complaints. She started calling regularly and I stopped answering. Fortunately, one of our Deacons said he would be glad to take her calls. Unfortunately, sometimes I would answer my phone without looking and it was Joy. She started challenging me about my faith and the kind of people at Hope who would disturb her peace. I can still hear her saying, “And you call yourself a Christian pastor?”
So, when we began grading our property to market an acre for sale, the phone lines lit up. During this time the Leadership and the morning prayer team were praying for Joy. I remember Grace Sidebotham praying for Joy to be true to her name. Now with the complaints came demands. One of her demands was a fence and there would be others. Some of the leaders and myself wrestled with how to respond. We decided it would be good to go the extra mile with her and return goodness for her caustic criticisms. We gave her patience and kindness. We built her a fence with other gestures of friendship. Something changed…
Fast forward, I am walking to a meeting downtown for the City Council meeting. The Council was going to decide on allowing us to rezone an acre of our property for sale. Our plans hinged on the sale of this property for starting our building program. The phone began ringing and it was Joy. She was bubbling with excitement and asked if she could speak at the meeting through the speaker on the phone. She wanted to speak in favor of rezoning and give a ringing endorsement of our church. I was stunned and quickly became cherophoric. I explained to her it would probably not be allowed, but I profusely thanked her.
As I walked into the courthouse, I saw a table with clipboards for sign-ups to speak for different motions before the City Council. When I looked at the one for Hope, there was no one signed up to speak against the rezoning. There was a list of folks signed up to speak for us. Some of these people had been neighbors against us at the beginning. One of them told me later, “the way all of you handled this rezoning was a class act.” I wished I had taken a photo of the list. I wish I could have added Joy’s name to the list. Joy’s transformation is a great picture to me of the promise the angel made when he announced there would be good news of great joy because of Jesus becoming the incarnate Immanuel.
Within a few years, Joy passed away. We were able to buy her home and land which we are now clearing. When David shared with us the beginning of the demolition of Joy’s home last week in Looking UP, I remembered Joy’s story and suddenly it was … wait for it … Christmas!!!
December 9, 2020