A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Elba: Week One

In Elba on May 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm


CharacterS & Character

By Sierra Lehnhoff

Church is a place where people gather and bond. Elba is predominately a Christian community with more churches in its small community than people can count on two hands. My first Sunday was a delightful experience when I attended my first Elba church service at Covenant Community Church. This was no ordinary service because of the fact that it was Mother’s Day. I invited my mom out to celebrate the day with us and we arrived at the home of the Cowen family for the special service.


Covenant Community Church enjoys Mother’s Day service. (Photo by Sierra Lehnhoff)

Fold out chairs were set up in the front near the driveway on the grass. We were handed decorative paper fans with wooden handles and a ribbon on them. One side of the fan had the service printed on it, and on the other a hymn that is sung during a service. The forecast had predicted rain, but the sky was bright and the weather warm. All around the Cowen’s home had plants of various colors and blooms. A bird nest made to look like a stoplight hung from a pole off to the left. Immediately, the home struck guests with a sense of charm and enchantment, making a beautiful setting for church services.

Mart Gray, the pastor, greeted everyone, and Jack Brunson cracked jokes, one of his best-known traits to the congregation. A group of six men stood at the front and sang, while the pastor’s son, John Gray, played guitar for them. It’s not often I hear a men’s choir sing so it was really a new experience to me as we sang through the old hymns and the crowd began to harmonize on the ideal early summer morning. We all sat down and began to recognize the mothers and those who were visiting from out of town. I was also recognized as the Auburn student who will be living and learning in Elba this summer. We learned the sayings and traditions of the church with the help of Mary Gray and then the congregation was dismissed to chat until lunchtime.


Friendly Calico enjoys attention after service. (Photo by Sierra Lehnhoff)

We strolled around in the gardens, petted the old calico cat, and talked to the members of Covenant Community church. Everyone was friendly and eager to know what I was doing.  They told me they were happy to have me there, and I was and still am delighted to be here. The Cowen’s B-M-W (BBQ Made Wonderful) was served, and everyone lined up to eat at a rapid pace. We passed through the line and found a seat at one of the long tables in the opened garage. Not long after, Jack Brunson appeared and sat next to us. His round, plastic-rimmed spectacles and pleasant demeanor made him easy to talk to as he chatted up a storm with my family and I. As we talked over lunch, Pastor Gray happened to find us and sat down. Inevitably, the jokes began to fly and the perfect description of Covenant was formed. Mart looked at me and said, “Some people think we say, ‘Welcome to Covenant Community Church, we’ve got character’, but really what we’re saying is ‘we’ve got characterS,” giving everyone at the table a good chuckle.

I am happy to say that this Sunday I returned to another service at Covenant Community Church to be greeted by all the folks there and embraced by their part of the community. As I get older, I realize more and more that church is a vital part to community building. It’s easier to see in smaller towns, but a church forms a certain bond between people. It creates opportunities for casual conversation. Every Sunday is a family reunion full of merriment and invitation to be closer to every individual you interact with in that community. They recognize you, they say hi on the street, and even in a short time the people I have met through the church have been people who have become my host family while I am here in Elba. They have become my partners in projects. They have even become my friends and a large support group for me.

I think churches often get associated with being cut off from the community, like a fancy country club. Covenant even touched upon the subject of how difficult it can be to get into churches, but down here in Elba for Covenant Community Church that could not be farther from the truth. Everyone here embraces you and looks out for you. I see this sort of interaction all throughout Elba, not just in the church. Some groups are fellow churchgoers, but a lot of them are not. That certain feeling of family one can feel in a church is all throughout the community. As I dig deeper and deeper in the community of Elba I am learning they not only have characters but a lot of great character as a whole town.


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