My dad would often go to the building at the corner of North Beale Road and Griffith Avenue for fellowship and to help ease some of the burdens of life. It was the Royal Oak Tavern back then. Dad would always park his car behind the tavern, so that our family could see it from our house, which stood on a small hill about half a mile north-east.
The presence of the Royal Oak Tavern also provided me with a guiding light. Sometimes the fog on North Beale Road would be so thick at night I would have probably missed the turn at Griffith while driving home if it hadn’t been for the flashing of an incandescent arrow beckoning patrons to the tavern.
That flashing arrow is now gone, as is the tavern. It has been transformed into a church, the Gospel Christian Center.
I’ve been to a few services at this church and I’ve also shopped many times at the thrift store they used to have on the property. I’ve known Pastor Ruth Catlin and her son Arthur for many years; when I recently visited, Arthur was giving the sermon.
The Gospel Christian Center is a family church, in that it seems, at least when I attended, that most of the people there are related to the Catlin family. For the most part, the congregation is African-American. I find it sad that only a short distance east is the Bible Baptist Church which is a predominantly Caucasian congregation. Personally, I believe God likes to see us mixed up, at least in the racial sense. To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Pastor Catlin is a very capable preacher, and his sermon about not being discouraged in life was poignant and easy to relate to. He pointed out that we often give up before the blessing comes and that the devil will do his best to dissuade us:
“Renew your mind,” he preached. “Don’t block your blessings…submit, resist, speak the word of God….as you’re trying to go in the right direction, the devil will discourage you.”
One thing I’ve discovered in visiting so many different places of worship is that I always leave with the feeling I’ve gained something. I have yet to hear a “fire and brimstone” service where everyone is going to hell if they don’t live a certain way.
There can be so many different motives to attend church: fellowship, family tradition, fear of hell, a need to look good, a desire to play on the softball team, or even a yearning to meet God. Or, as an old friend once told me, he used to go to church to meet girls. Whatever the reason, if you look for something good, there’s a chance you just might find it.
Since the Royal Oak Tavern served hot food (pre-made sandwiches heated up in a toaster oven), people of all ages were allowed inside. I remember chomping down on a toasted ham and cheese, my feet dangling from a bar stool, and sipping on a bottle of Coke that had a handful of Planters Peanuts floating inside its neck, while the juke box played country music.
The music’s different now. There is a small band playing and I recognize the song, “I’m Desperate for You”, from the Christian radio station my wife likes to listen to. At the beginning of the service, one of the band members gave a testimony about how Jesus had changed his life. Just as the flashing arrow at the corner of Beale Road and Griffith was my guiding light years ago, it appears that someone else has found direction at that same corner. It’s still a beacon in the fogginess of life.