First Person: In West, tradition continues as love endures

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First Baptist Church in West has made great progress since the fertilizer-plant explosion rocked our community April 17. Things are going well.

However, the holidays were very difficult. We still grieve those who died, and many of our families were not able to continue some of their Christmas traditions this year because of lost loved ones or because they are not yet back in their homes.

john crowder130John CrowderFor example, in mid-December, my wife, Lisa, and I always host an open house for our church family. We call it “Christmas at the Crowders.” It’s something we have done every year since we entered full-time ministry 22 years ago.

This past Christmas was the first time we were not able to host our holiday gathering. We had to demolish our home after the explosion, and we have not rebuilt our house yet. Hosting such a gathering in the mobile home where we now live would have been impractical. Besides, many of our decorations and Christmas dishes were broken in the explosion. Those that survived still are in storage until we can move into our new house. So, there was no way to have “Christmas at the Crowders.”

When we realized we could not keep that tradition, we were very disappointed, and it added to our grief. We understood this was just another of many losses caused by the disaster.

We knew the open house had been important to us, but we did not realize how important it had been to our church family. We were surprised and deeply touched when some of the people in our church told us they wanted to host a fellowship at the church that would be much like our open house. They invited the church to stay for the fellowship after worship on the Sunday before Christmas.

Instead of “Christmas at the Crowders,” they called it “Christmas with the Crowders.” These wonderful people went back through some of the recipes Lisa had used in previous years, chose some they enjoyed the most and prepared all the food. They even made the same punch we usually serve.

west explosion356The fertilizer plant explosion on April 17, 2013, that claimed as many as 15 lives and injured more than 160 others also damaged First Baptist Church and destroyed Pastor John Crowder’s home.Each year, Lisa creates a hand-made ornament for each family who comes to the open house. This Christmas, the people who hosted the fellowship did that as well. Some of the people who have been in our church a long time are proud they have an ornament from every year since we came here, and now they will be able to continue that tradition for 2013.

“Christmas with the Crowders” was a huge blessing, and it meant more to our family than we can express. By hosting “Christmas with the Crowders,” our church family gave us some beautiful gifts. They made it possible for us to continue a meaningful tradition that is a big part of our Christmas every year. They let us know they appreciate what we do at Christmas, and it is seen as an important part of our life together as a church. They demonstrated grace and love during a very difficult time for us. They ministered to the minister in a way that has deeply moved me and has encouraged me greatly.

I always will remember 2013 as the worst year of my life. But I also will remember it ended with one of the greatest experiences a pastor can have—when his congregation lets him know he is loved.

God is good, and West is blessed.

John Crowder is pastor of First Baptist Church in West, Texas.

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