Over the past several years I searched for a new church home. I looked for a closer, more down to earth spiritual connection with God, one that was basic, clear and strong.
Now I am not knocking the mainstream churches. I spent the majority of my life as a mainstream church member and I know they have an important place in American Christianity. But lately they just haven’t filled my needs. Something has been missing.
I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, later became an Episcopalian, and after moving from the city to the country became a Methodist. In each of these denominations I was very active, serving in a variety of leadership and support roles.
My dissatisfaction started when I realized that many churches were watering down the principles of our biblical heritage. I began to notice the liberal influence of the central church authorities regarding the absolutes of right and wrong. This influence was contrary to my natural conservatism and the views of many of the other parishioners as well.
And what about that missing something I was searching for? Well, I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I found myself departing church services feeling angry instead of peaceful. I knew that this was wrong.
Gradually I stopped attending church. I began to pray about it and search my heart and soul for an answer.
That answer came to me while celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection on the deck of my home early one Easter morning. It was a beautiful morning with the sun streaming through the foggy mist enveloping the forest. The setting resembled the picture found on one of those old-fashioned hand fans used in church before air conditioning.
As my wife and I completed our family worship with a prayer, a beautiful blue heron began to “raise a ruckus” from a fencepost nearby. It was very loud and the farm animals including chickens, geese and our pet parrots chimed in. Even the barn dogs started howling.
And then, just as quickly as it began, this beautiful bird stopped “talking” and flew away. All of the other animals followed his cue.
At that moment I knew what I was searching for. I was seeking a place of worship that was informal, open, and close to nature. I wanted a worship experience that matched my adopted lifestyle.
Soon thereafter my wife spent a morning in the barn performing routine horse hoof maintenance with our farrier, A.J. While they were working and chatting, he told her about a new little church that he had found that was different from any other he had ever attended. It was non-denominational, held services in a modified barn, and catered to people like us.
My interest was instantly piqued, so that evening I called A.J. and asked him about the church. He said he enjoyed it, the preaching was from “The Book” and was very good, and the singing was cheerful and bright. He referred me to a website which I could review to learn more.
After checking the website and finding directions, I decided to give it a try the following Sunday.
So Sunday morning my wife and I headed out to the Church at Triple Cross Ranch. It was a bright and beautiful day and the thirty minute drive took us through some of the prettiest country in what we call the “Real Florida”. We went through heavily wooded and swampy areas, passed beautiful pastures and meadows, and hilly horse country that resembled Kentucky.
As we approached Triple Cross Ranch we saw three large crosses in a pasture. This was it. So we turned in, drove up a rough drive and there was the church in a barn.
We were early so we had a chance to view the property. My wife loved it as she adores any rural property with horses. We met a few people and then it was time for church.
Now this was a big change for me. I had never been to a church service in a modified barn but I found it quite pleasing. And the music, what I would call a Christian version of country rock, was cheerful and uplifting. Accompanied by piano and guitars, a group of young women led the singing and everyone was clapping to the beat; some were even thumping tambourines. It truly represented the desire to “Make a Joyful Noise.”
Finally, Pastor Norman led the congregation in prayer, read the Scripture, and gave a very good sermon. He was clear, his voice was strong, and he seldom if ever had to refer to any notes. His message was from the heart, not memorized or read, and it kept my attention.
Now I must confess that many times when attending church I have had trouble paying attention. Frequently I would daydream or just use the time for general meditation. But this wasn’t the case at the Church at Triple Cross Ranch. I found myself wanting to know more about the message, and I made a mental note to re-read the scripture passages in my study bible when I returned home.
Also noteworthy was the fact that an offering is not part of the service. A small wooden church, like a dollhouse, on a table by the door is where you can leave your offering. I have never before been to a church that truly believed that money doesn’t have to be formally collected. People will routinely respond individually in response to their blessing from the Father.
After the service, the congregation was invited to stay for a covered dish lunch. It is served in a neat little screened in room not far from the barn. What an idyllic setting.
My wife and I weren’t able to stay because of other commitments, so we started our trip back home. Returning by way of that same gorgeous country route, we stopped at a local landmark in Micanopy to pick up carryout barbeque.
What a perfect ending to a wonderful Sunday morning. Pearl’s Country Store serves some of the best Southern barbeque around. And the portions are tremendous. It was obvious from the size of the after church crowd that its reputation is well known.
That Sunday afternoon was one of peace and tranquility. I was again at peace with myself, my place in life, and my Maker. And I am sure that my new church experience played a significant part in that outcome.
Since that first Sunday I have returned to Triple Cross on many occasions. I plan to make it a regular Sunday experience because it provides for me the perfect setting of simplicity, sincerity and truth in a close-to-God natural setting. And I thank Him for showing me the way to its door.