Things are pretty quiet in the mountain town of Creede, Colorado. You will not find fast food or fast living there. If you want someone to package your entertainment and provide it with instructions, you should probably go elsewhere. Nothing is franchised in Creede, not the stores or even the churches.
It’s the mountain way.
That’s why my family goes to Creede every summer. We go for the mountains and because we enjoy not being told how to have fun.
We always stop by the Ramble House on Main Street, a kind of fishing and mercantile establishment. I’m sad to tell you that Alvin died a few years back. His seat is still there by the fireplace where he held court, tying flies and sharing his wisdom. Back in the day, you could talk with Alvin while your kids ate popcorn and looked at the toys and moccasins on the back wall.
Jim and Susan’s bead shop is in the white house down from the gas station. That’s their dog Sam on the front porch. He’s friendly. You can get everything you need there for a night of jewelry-making with your children.
And make sure you stop by the Ranger Station. The ranger on duty will take the kids to the back room to see the stuffed bear and give them a bag of key chains, rulers, coloring books, and whatever else happens to be on hand. Each child may also select one (1) nature poster from the wooden cabinet with all the drawers.
My girls and I always speculate as to how that one ranger lost a chunk out of his ear. They spin wild tales, but I always stick with the same one-word explanation: “Badger.” We haven’t worked up the courage to ask him what really happened.
Now in the center of this little village sits a tiny church that I love as much as any place in the whole world. Every year I sit on the back row, hoping to find worship for myself. And every year I cry through the entire service. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
They call themselves, “Creede Community Church.” I believe they are an United Church of Christ congregation, but their minister is a Methodist circuit rider like in the old days. It’s a mountain church in a mountain town, and you get the feeling that religious affiliations don’t mean as much when you live so close to the timber line.
The minister preaches early Sunday morning down the mountain somewhere, perhaps in South Fork. Then he heads upriver to preach at Creede. He is not slick. His clothes are, shall we say, practical. His sermons are wonderful but perhaps lack some of the polish that can be had for those willing to pay the high price that comes with that sort of nonsense.
The worship service isn’t slick either. Most everything is done by volunteers. The six or eight people who make up the choir fuss with their sheet music and await the exaggerated “one, two, three, four” from the music leader before belting out a hymn or two. The pianist also organizes the Vacation Bible School and stands right at the piano to announce that they need toilet paper tubes and macaroni for art projects. People are directed to leave these items in a box in the foyer.
I’m telling you, this is one of the greatest places on earth.
The first time I went to this church, I eased myself into a pew like a man slipping into a warm bath. “Thank God I don’t have to do anything,” I said to myself. The minister came to the pulpit in an inexpensive suit with a tie that just almost matched. Just, mmm…that close to matching. I think he was wearing hiking boots.
When he opened his mouth I began to cry, and I never stopped crying until the service was over.
That first year a few kind souls in the back certainly noticed the stranger who cried through the whole service. One woman offered me tissues. But in the fashion of the Lord’s most experienced servants, they left me alone. They could see that something was going on between me and God, and they were pleased to play their part. Their part was to nod kindly, hand over the tissues, and give me a place just to sit and cry and not be bothered by anyone.
They are a mountain church and a mountain people. Mountains, by and large, let people be, and they do the same. Thank the Lord for tender mercies.
I go back every year, and the same thing happens. I bring my own tissues now. A pocketful will do. When the service starts I begin crying softly, and I pretty much cry straight through to the end. Then I leave. They let me come and go in peace. They trust that I will ask if I need something more.
They have no idea why I’m crying, of course, and I didn’t know myself that first year. I’m not certain even now, but I have some ideas.
I cry in their church because I can’t cry in my own. I’m not suggesting that we discourage crying at our church. I’m saying I am not ABLE to cry there. Being in charge shuts something down in me, I think. So every summer in Creede I unpack a year’s worth of sorrow, joy, and wonder.
I cry in their church because it is my turn to be served. I’m like the woman who prepares the meals for her family each day. One day she comes home, and her children have prepared a meal for her. She bursts into tears because it’s her turn to receive. It doesn’t mean she wants to stop cooking. It’s just nice that it’s her turn.
I cry for those reasons, but mostly I cry because at Creede Community Church I can see the truth. Sitting in that simple pew on the back row, I see the Church Universal, in all her glory and silliness. The truth is, we are not sophisticated at all. We are nothing more than children, sticking our drawings on the fridge with tiny magnets, offering our best to the heavens on a wing and a prayer. We are precious, but perhaps only in His sight.
With my eyes closed, it almost seems like my feet don’t touch the floor. I become like a child in my Father’s house. My weakness is known to me, but I am okay with weakness. I know my place. I see myself as one child among many, bowing my head seriously, but not realizing that I have a milk moustache and my shoes are on the wrong feet.
I think messy little boys and girls praying in church must be fairly irresistible to God. When God slows down and licks his fingers to slick down my cowlick, I catch a fleeting glimpse of the hem of his robe.
A glimpse is plenty enough for me.
That is the moment of true worship, and I always seem to find it in Creede.
And in that moment, I cry from pure joy and relief.