There are various reasons this occurs. Sometimes it happens with the change of the pastor. Sometimes it happens over disagreements. And sometimes, it just happens.
But every church I have been associated with has two or three families that can be credited with keeping the church going during those lean times.
These people are cornerstones of the church and stay with her through thick and thin.
I was reminded of this on Thanksgiving Day when I was sitting in the Waffle House. Don and Wylene Sheffield came in while I was there. They both took a few minutes to talk with me although Don didn’t recognize me at first. I barely recognized him as he has grown his beard for Santa in preparation for visiting nursing homes.
The Sheffields are cornerstones at Buffington Baptist Church. They have been for years. It would be easy to say that their lives revolve around their church as opposed to revolving around worldly things. In other words, they are good people.
There are others at Buffington Baptist Church that I remember when I attended there years ago that were cornerstones equal to the Sheffields. But anyone that has ever been associated with Buffington Baptist Church can’t possibly think about it without thinking about Cleve and Jo Johnson.
When I attended there 25 years ago, the number in the congregation would vary. But one thing that never changed was the attendance and participation of Cleve and Jo Johnson.
Their home sits about 100 yards from the church. In the two years I attended there, I don’t recall them ever missing.
As I write this, I can see Cleve getting things started as the Song Leader. Cleve could sing and always loved good gospel music. Jo always sat in the choir to add to the singing. And both of them could be counted on to pray for the preacher and potential converts as they made their way to the altar.
Cleve was a fireball. He had a great passion for his church. But he had an equal sense of humor. He was a handful. And he was blessed to have a wife like Jo. She could handle him and his passion for life.
They had me over many times after church for lunch. No one on the planet could cook any better than Jo. So being around them didn’t just feed me spiritually, it fed me literally. And I was fed well on both fronts.
For the country Baptist who is reading this, there is no doubt that you can look at your own church and name the cornerstone couples without even thinking.
You look at them every Sunday. But do you really see them? Or have they become like part of the furniture?
Cleve Johnson no longer lives among us. The God that he loved serving with such passion decided He needed him on the other side several years ago.
Shamefully, I had to ask the Sheffields if Jo was still with us. They not only told me that she was, but that she was also still living in the same home she shared with Cleve.
I didn’t get a chance to tell Cleve what I thought of him before he passed. I didn’t tell him that he had been instrumental in keeping Buffington Baptist Church alive because of his love and passion. Yes, there were others, but Cleve was always there. He wasn’t afraid to make decisions or suggestions.
Some people often wonder why certain people make so many decisions for the church. The truth is they do it because someone has to and most don’t want to. But Cleve would step out there and do it because he wanted nothing more in the world than to see his church flourish.
But Cleve was also able to do this because he had a wife who loved the church as much as he did. And Jo is as tender as Cleve was strong. And she was always a voice of reason. They were made for each other.
I may not have told Cleve what he meant to me and to the church. But because of seeing the Sheffields, I know that I can tell Jo.
So Jo, please know that I thank God for the both of you. I’m sure Buffington’s congregation feels the same.
Chris Collett is a lifelong resident of Cherokee County.