A note from
Rev. Rob Warren
The Fly-In Cafe identifies itself as "An American Bar, Grill and Seafood Restaurant." It's an ambitious goal to be all that. But then again, it's a very unique place. It's on the campus of the Robert Newton Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. To the north is the Riviera Country Club, to the south an RV park. Walk a couple hundred feet to the west and you'll be swimming in the Ohio River, to the east? Watch for trains when you cross the tracks. The night that this picture was taken, I was playing bass with a band called "Dos 3 Guise." I saw people drive, boat and land on the airstrip and gather together. There were also several walk-ins from the campground, a few folks on their motorcycles, and two skydivers. Some of the drivers came in from the areas outside this little riverside retreat, where you pass by houses with three walls (been that way since 1986), clotheslines that are used to hang hand-washed clothes, and the nicest car on the block has a "salvage" title.
Let. That. Sink. In.
It may not have "diversity" in the way that we're taught in seminary, but economic diversity? That, the Fly-In has. In one group you had a lawyer, a minister, a pilot, an author of books on parenting, a doctor, a veterinarian, a director of quality compliance and privacy officer, three fishermen, two bikers, one boater, one photographer... and that was just the members of the band and our dates. The crowd was made up of a plethora of people who had only one thing in common. They all came to the same place at nearly the same time to be with friends and hear some live music played outside so you can smell the aroma of tiki torch anti-bug fuel. There were people drinking (who decided to sing during one of the band breaks and were cheered on by folks who were apparently drinking more), but it seemed like most people were just there to spend some time with friends, maybe try some dodgy food and chat. The moment this picture was taken was the moment I stopped worrying about being "perfect" (I was playing a tune in E while the rest of the band was in Eb) and started to have fun myself. Of course, this led to a very clumsy stunt a little later in the middle of "Purple Rain" that almost led to me taking out Steve (guitar) and Thom (drums) - Bert is usually smart enough to step away when he sees the smirk.
Because, growing up it meant I'd just done something stupid (like playing in the wrong key) or was going to do something stupid (like get down on my knees while playing and then have to figure out how to get back up, while still playing); there is a third time that he's unfamiliar with. It's the "Ok, it's obvious this isn't going to be the day for me, but what is God doing around me that I'm missing?" I have those far more often than not. I'm going to share a secret that some of you know, but I haven't admitted it publicly. I get nervous when I preach (anyone who doesn't is about to do some damage to the church because they're not taking it seriously). That's why I have a format to follow and an outline in front of me. But to sing/play in public is downright terrifying to me.
Because I haven't "gotten over" myself when it comes to music.
The second time I preached a "real" sermon before the church I served as a student pastor was absolutely perfect. I could not have preached a better sermon. It was tied directly to the scripture and historical interpretation. None of the stories wandered. It was A-B-C-D perfect. I didn't "um" or "ah, like, you know." a single time. In my mind, it was written with the expertise far beyond my experience and wisdom well-past my age. As I smiled at the end, so full of pride, I looked down... and my stole was on backwards. The entire time, I'd been preaching with a green stole, a three-inch long white tag had been fluttering against the backdrop of my black robe. I did the charge and the blessing, then walked to the back of the sanctuary and when I got to the door, I flipped it over and tucked in the tag (I've since cut the tag off). The very first person to shake my hand said, "Good sermon... but... I thought you had your stole on backwards." It came up several more times. That was the day I gave up on ever having the perfect worship service. Once that pressure was relieved - I find myself able to worship in the same service I lead, mainly during the music - and I started rejoicing in worship.
But playing music? I will never work hard enough, or be suddenly granted the power to make it "perfect." Which is why, for the most part, I have a better time playing bass and singing backup rather than guitar or singing. I may do a song or two to give the lead singer a break, but for the most part, I'm very content being the third or fourth most visible person on the stage, but part of the foundation that lets the other kids play. Funny thing? Every time I've tried to make it "The Rob Show," it's gone horribly wrong. It's not my thing. I'm not a lead-singer kind of guy. That needs a guy like Bert, who quips and manages rowdy crowds, "Remember folks, it's $100 per request, but we'll return 50 of it if we actually play it." Unlike Thom, who is a very good drummer who uses a very minimal kit, I tend to speed up the tempo when I play drums. Steve? He's been practicing guitar every day since high school. His guitar teacher told him a decade ago to stop taking lessons because he ran out of things to teach him years prior to that. I just go in, practice with the band, and if they tell me it's ok to play, I play.
And there is a tremendous freedom in that. Because the burden is lifted - and it doesn't matter if I'm playing in front of people who can afford their own planes or boats, or people who don't power-wash their trucks because something might fall off. Where people who don't own suits hang out with people who know the difference between a Windsor and a four-in hand. I can just apologize for not knowing that the band is tuned down a half-step, and I'm still in standard. Where the "entertainers" have a relationship with those who seek to be entertained that is mutual. And what is good is that everyone isn't forced to stay in their own lane. Turns out bikers love to talk to pilots and parachutists, and no one really cared that the high-tab table got up to sing their own version of "Black Velvet" while the band took a break.
Somehow, the Fly-In managed to have a pretty good fellowship.
And all they really did was stick to their plan. To be this place where it didn't matter where you came from (north, south, east, west, or even the sky) or how you got there (you can walk, boat, drive, skydive, ride, fly) or what you did when you got there (there were people there eating, drinking, hanging out, discussing politics, religion, their troubles, their celebrations...). It didn't matter how you were dressed (golf shorts, leathers, chinos, jeans...) or your personal style (I saw some of the most extensive ink and expensive jewelry I've ever seen there). What mattered was that the staff and owner were there to do what they did very well.
Now, you probably think I'm going to talk about diversity in the church, inviting others, welcoming all - there are a lot of topics covered here. But I want to go a different way. You see, one of the things that makes the Fly-In "special" is that it not only has its own unique identity, and keeps it. They don't "cater" to one group or another. It would be easy to become a cafe for pilots, a bar for bikers, a restaurant for boaters or pub for folks from the RV park, but they don't specialize. And in a world where most places of that sort fail, it seems to be working because there aren't many places like that in the country, much less in the area.
Which brings me to the point - I was talking to a member of the church who brought something to my attention, which reminded me of the Fly-In. They let me know their own feelings and thoughts about the wonderful uniqueness of First Pres Marion. This member listed several things that the church does not do (because it isn't the church's personality) but several things that the church does (by declaration and instinct) and is going to do in the future (by planning and moving forward in faith). Most importantly, the member was very clear about who the church was, who the church followed, and who the church was here to serve.
The church, in this area, is unique - because it doesn't seek to condemn or make members conform, which sadly, requires the people to study, think and share wisdom, which is much harder than just being told what to do and what not to do. Simply, it requires more work, but returns more love, which sets it apart from many other churches. It may not ever be the largest church in the county, but it is a place where, if you miss a couple consecutive Sundays, people are going to wonder and after the third, they're probably going to start calling. It is a church where you may see expensive-looking vehicles in the parking lot, but I can assure you that at least one has a salvage title. We have golfers, bikers... I think you get the point.
The glory of God is present through the people who minister through 79 Academy Street (or in their homes) because we don't follow fads, but continually seek to return to old and seek new ways of serving the people of this community. And let everyone know, if you come from the north or the south, from the east or the west, or even drop in from the sky - you are welcome at the communion table to share with all who confess the Lord as their Savior.
May God bless you - Rob
* Remember that this week, my family and I will be enjoying our annual vacation with family on the Florida coast. My phone will be in a backpack from April 30 until May 9, when we celebrate Mother's Day and communion together.