Sylvester Harris has been a part of Citylights Church for several years now. In his 60s, Sylvester came to Citylights after a long time away from church. He was careful to note he didn’t leave God, but he had left the church for a long time, searching for something.
Sylvester was born in Little Rock Arkansas and raised a Southern Baptist. He frequently cited his grandmother who raised him as a spiritual guide. She taught him how you had to read between the lines with the Bible and really comprehend what scripture means for you and for your fellow man. Too often people use scripture selfishly and sometimes the fakest people who are trying to fool God will try do it right there, in the church. Audacious, if you think about it.
Being older and being taught a certain way I suppose, Sylvester has always walked a polite path with people. So any differences he’s had with fellow Christians over any particular issue he’s largely kept to himself over the years. And that did lead away from the church for a long time. But somehow God was working all along to bring Sylvester back.
It was a long and winding road too from Southern Baptist as a youth through joining a monastery and exploring the Donatist movement, checking out churches of this style and that, but nothing ever felt right. Until one night a few years ago, Sylvester was at a club and not in a good place emotionally and a complete stranger could tell she needed to invite him to Citylights.
Sylvester was immediately skeptical, wondering if it was the old school type church he had left in his youth. The woman said, “No it’s not that kind of church.”
“Oh, then it’s one of them more modern churches, because I have issues there too.”
“No, it’s not that kind of church either. You just need to come see.”
Something inside of Sylvester, the Holy Spirit, was pushing him and he had to go. And so Sylvester did and was surprised to find a spiritual home. He said several times in his testimony that he was in awe of how God moved, leading him on this long and winding journey but bring him back. He said it was amazing, having conversations with our pastors here that he’d never had in his life, in none of the variety of places he’d tried previously.
And while the conversations between Sylvester and the pastors are their business not ours, I know that they’re rooted in a kind of honesty and humility that successfully seems to satisfy threading a needle. One that is genuinely welcoming and loving and fair, always pursuing faithfulness to God and to God’s word, loving mercy and seeking justice. And realizing that that has to be read between the lines sometimes, in authentic fellowship with other people.
As Sylvester shared with me today, he had a powerful spiritual experience when a woman named Maggie shared a parable with him, about two angels dealing with humanity, the point of the story being that things aren’t always what they seem. That parable really really resonated with Sylvester, having so long had a picture of what church was, dissatisfying whether from this side or that, and then finding real fellowship when he least expected it.
Sylvester has long been grappling with what church means and with what his relationship with God is about. He knows that his relationship with God is something that no person can get in the middle of. But he also knows that he was needing to be in church. The fellowship is vital. In a way that he considers miraculous, Sylvester has found some peace realizing that things aren’t always what they seem.