Stone Mountain, GA (September 13, 1998)-Founded in 1900 in the mill community of Scottdale, Ingleside Presbyterian Church moved a bit further from Atlanta in 1978. Two years ago, it settled into its present building, which it built, between Stone Mountain and Clarkston. When the congregation moved, it undoubtedly never thought that a changing neighborhood would induce it, less than two decades later, to move again. But an inability to assimilate people from an African-American culture into the church, and an increasingly elderly congregation, were major factors in the impending sale of the building to a Vietnamese church and relocation of Ingleside to the suburbs of Gwinnett County-about 18 miles to the east.
Today is a special day at Ingleside, as members of an ethnic church which has used the Ingleside facility were present to express their appreciation for the hospitality. The Atlanta Marthoma Church, which consists of sixty families, is part of the historic St. Thomas Church of South India, which traces its origin to the missionary efforts of Thomas the Apostle. Pastor Samuel Mathai, who comes from New Jersey twice a month to minister to the Indian congregation, explains that his branch of Christendom has been described as a bridge-building church between Eastern churches and Protestants. The Church of St. Thomas, the pastor says, is "evangelical and ecumenical in nature." After his remarks, a youth choir offers three contemporary songs, in English, accompanied by guitars and tambourine, and the church applauds its appreciation.
Applauded earlier in the service was Mrs. Jordice Cone, a visitor from North Carolina, who offered an offertory solo, "He's Been Faithful." Before she sang, Mrs. Cone asked the members of the congregation to raise their hands if they had experienced God's faithfulness.
The songs sung today are mostly the favorites of fundamentalists everywhere: "All Hail the Power," "When We All Get to Heaven," "When the Roll is Called up Yonder," "Soon & Very Soon," and "I'll Fly Away." A couple of contemporary choruses are interspersed, also.
There is no pastoral prayer. A "morning prayer" offered by a layman lasts about a minute.
There is also no Scripture reading as such. Near the beginning of his message, Pastor Bill Bratley has the congregation recite in unison his text, Psalm 23:6, King James Version. Towards the close of the message, he has the congregation recite in unison another text from the bulletin. Numerous texts are printed there; ten of the twelve are from the Living Bible.
The pastor's message is "God's Antidote to Fearing the Future"; and the theme is, "I Do Not Fear the Future." On his first point, "Because God is watching over me," Mr. Bratley refers to the Living Bible version of Romans 8:28 ("We know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into His plans"); and states that all that happens to us is working for our good "if we are trying to fit into His plans." God's watchfulness entails His sending angels to protect us. "I believe angels have protected some of you on Interstate 285." Pastor Bratley refers favorably to the book, Angels Among Us, including the author's belief that angels have sometimes re-routed mail and otherwise intervened in human affairs.
The second point regarding not fearing the future is "Because God's grace is working in you." You're going to need not only God's goodness but God's mercy: "Mercy is simply grace in action." The preacher avers: "God has a 24-hour drop-in service: you can go to Him when you need help." Referring to the necessity of having a PIN (Personal Identification Number) in order to access a teller machine, Mr. Bratley made the application regarding being able to pray at any time: ". . . and the PIN number is the shed blood of Jesus Christ." He continued: "God is constantly picking up your messes, because that's mercy." Furthermore, we can depend on Him: "God does not lie-unlike others in our nation-and He cannot possibly be inconsistent. . . . There is no just-supposin' in the Bible." The pastor related the lesson that he and his wife had learned from their twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Hawaii: "hang loose."
The third point was "Because heaven is waiting for me." Mr. Bratley noted: "I've heard the statistic that one out of one dies. . . . It's only a fool that goes through life not being prepared for what's going to be happening to everybody." According to the minister, if we all knew we were going to heaven, "We would all be seeking out Dr. Kevorkian to get there, quick." He also stated that heaven was not going to be as some people imagined it-a time of strumming on a harp and sitting on a cloud. Mr. Bratley, who has a degree in music, said: "Let me tell you, if that happened to me in heaven [having to strum a harp all day], that wouldn't be heaven, that would be hell. That would be boring." In heaven, we will be doing things. We will also have no pain: "There ain't no doctors' names in your little address book in heaven."
But heaven "is not made for everyone." God has "made it for those who want to be His children. . . . Once I decide to follow Christ, God provides the way for us to heaven."
The present life "is not the big show, this is only the opening act." The minister decried the fact that "we spend our lives making money as if it's the most important thing in life." He mentioned the church's building program; and, with reference to the church's motto, he asked: "Are you investing in a Winning-Building-Praising-Serving home base, or are you hanging on to your cash just in case you need it? . . . Everything that you have is a loan-so live the life of eternity."
Teaching Elder Bratley informed the congregation that God lets people into heaven "because they love Him during the time they are on earth." He challenged the flock: "Are you listening to what Jesus says and are you following Him?" He continued: "You are going to sin after you become a Christian. But when you put your hand in God's hand, He holds on to you. . . . It's not all up to me: I do the trusting, God does the keeping."
The message today was the sixth and final of a series on the 23rd Psalm. Mr. Bratley summarized the message of the psalm as being, "Jesus is all you need."
During his closing prayer, Mr. Bratley spoke of how we "invest in a stock market that makes the 'Scream Machine' at Six Flags seem like nothing." He also prayed that "some of us would prefer a condo in South Florida than to live with You forever and ever."
After the singing of "I'll Fly Away," and prior to the benediction, the minister told the congregation that if they wanted to know how long they had until they fly away, be sure to see a certain lady who was going to be checking blood pressure after church.
When the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.), congregations of the former could exercise an option to leave the denomination. Ingleside Presbyterian was one of the last churches from the former Southern Presbyterian Church to take advantage of that opportunity, seceding in 1990 and joining the PCA.