Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

For Sunday, October 12, 2003


Family surprised as grandson preaches first sermon at age eight


            This summer I listened one day to several messages left on our telephone. The most interesting one was from our grandson, Josh, who is eight years old. He is the second son of Steve and Amy. They live near us in my old home place, which Steve, a homebuilder, remodeled last year.

            This was the message Josh left me: “Grampa, this is Josh. I have decided to be a preacher. I want you to sign me up to be a preacher like you. I have read 40 pages in my Bible. Please call me.”

            Josh confirmed the announcement when I called him back. I could tell he was serious, as serious as a boy his age can be. He came by the house and we talked some more. He was in earnest about becoming a preacher.

            For a couple of days, I mulled over the question of how to sign up an eight-year-old boy to be a preacher. The answer was clear: write my presiding bishop.

            I did just that, informing Bishop Larry Goodpaster that my grandson, Josh, wished to become a preacher and wanted to be “signed up.”

            The good bishop wrote Josh a personal letter immediately, celebrating his decision, and encouraging him to pursue his call from God.

            When Josh received the letter in the mail, he refused to open it until he could sit down with me, and allow me to read it with him. He read it aloud, not needing any help from me in pronunciation. He was thrilled, and so was I.  

            I encouraged Josh to read his Bible daily and to stop by and share with me ideas he gained from his study. We have talked several times since then.

            One day in August Josh tossed us all another surprise. He wanted to preach his first sermon at his home on October 8, at noon. Why that date, we asked. His reply: “That is during our school’s fall break.” As it turned out, that date was Wednesday of this past week.

            During September, Josh invited me to help him prepare his sermon. We met more than a dozen times and almost daily the first week of October. He wanted to be ready.

            Wisely I think, I resisted the temptation to tell Josh what to say. I picked his brain, pulling from him the gist of what he was thinking, and helped him organize his thoughts.

            He liked the story of Jeremiah, the prophet who was a young man when he was called to preach.  Josh decided to read Jeremiah 1:4-8 as his scripture.

            Josh had a bigger plan than just preaching a sermon. He invited his Uncle Matt, our son who is a Methodist pastor, to help him serve Holy Communion. His Uncle graciously assisted him by doing so.

            Josh’s dad has been adding a large room onto the house. Josh decided this room would be just the place for him to preach his first sermon. Steve worked hard to get the room ready in time for the service and he finished just in time.

            Not surprisingly, the room has been called “the new room.” That triggered a memory in my old Methodist brain. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, had a favorite preaching place in London called the New Room, or Wesley’s Chapel.

I shared with Josh that like Wesley did, 250 years ago, he would be preaching in the New Room, though in Elmore County, not London.

            October 8th came, and so did about 25 people, mostly family members Josh had invited. Uncle Matt brought metal chairs down from his church. Josh’s dad built a pulpit for him, sized for an eight-year-old.

            Josh wore a suit and a tie. “This is my preacher suit,” he told me, “until I outgrow it.” His grandmother Betty Baxley prepared a lovely bouquet of wild flowers. A bulletin with the order of worship was provided as well.

            Josh began the service by reciting Psalm 107:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

            Josh invited his other grandmother, Granny Dean, to bring and play her key board for the service. Like a good Methodist, Josh received an offering. He explained that it was for the poor children of Zambia, Africa.

            The amount received, $150, will pay the costs for five children to attend the God is Able School operated by Alfred and Muumbe Kalembo. Josh was proud of that.

            The ushers who received the offering were Josh’s brother, Jake, who is 11, and their dad, Steve.

            Josh’s sermon was not long. Most first sermons are brief. Mine was. I worked for days preparing my first sermon; it lasted five minutes. I had thought it would last at least 30 minutes.

            What did Josh say? He talked about Jeremiah and said he wanted to obey God just as Jeremiah did. Here, in his own words, is a portion of Josh’s sermon:

            “I want you to pray to God every night so you can know his plan for your life. I want you to remember that God always loves you even when you do bad things. But you have to ask God to forgive you when you do bad things, and he will forgive you. If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to pray to God. This is what I do if I am worried, and God give me peace in my heart.”

            Josh closed by putting on his “Hulk” boxing gloves and quoting his life verse: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). “If you will ask him,” Josh said, “he will give you all the strength you need too!”

            After assisting his uncle to serve the Lord’s Supper, Josh invited everyone to enjoy the lunch his mother Amy had prepared. All agreed it was an unusual day.

            All of this raises the question: Can a little boy at such a young age have been truly called by God to become a preacher? Is this the whimsical notion of a child? No one but God knows I suppose.

            As for me, I would not bet against Josh growing up to become a Methodist preacher. He showed me the letter he wrote to Bishop Goodpaster. The letter was brief, thanking the bishop for his letter. Before closing his letter, Josh printed these strong words: “I will not change my mind.”

            Now, you can make up your own mind as you ponder this story. I can tell you this: I will never forget Wednesday, October 8. It was for me a day of visitation. I think I heard the sound of angels’ wings. + + + +