The journey of the next new member to your church may be a long one. Andrew McFarlane is now an active leader at Bolivar United Methodist Church, a place where he would have not conceived himself being part of for most of his life.
McFarlane was born in Scotland, moved to Zambia when he was one and lived there for eight years, and traveled extensively after that, his father being an engineer for a pipeline company. His parents were involved in church before he was born but were not when he was growing up. He had a notion that the world was created by God, and that’s as far as his religious thinking went.
When he was about 12 years old, he was living in Bahrain and was out one day at the beginning of Ramadan. He saw people flailing themselves in the street. He considered that there must be something to religion if it caused people to beat themselves in the head, but the whole thing seemed bizarre to him.
“These people were making a show of faith, but I was really only interested in facts, not faith,” McFarlane said.
McFarlane met a Missouri woman online and moved to the United States in 2000. They wed, but after several months they determined the marriage wasn’t going to work, so they decided to divorce. He started making plans to move back to Scotland. Then his wife told him she was pregnant, so he opted to stay, although they did divorce.
About five years ago McFarlane was engaged to someone else, who suddenly became very ill. She was given a grim prognosis at the hospital and was advised to move to a nursing home for hospice care. McFarlane prayed for the first time in his life. Three weeks later his fiancée was home again, having made it past her life-threatening illness. “It was a miracle – to me, at least,” he said.
During her illness McFarlane had missed work, caring for her and the children. He had gotten behind on the utility bill. A few days after his fiancée arrived home, there was a knock at the door. It was the people from the church across the street. They had Christmas presents for the children and a two-month overdue utility bill that was paid in full.
“It was the best Christmas the kids ever had,” he said.
He felt he owed the church something, so he started attending there, but never felt fully connected. His neighbor, Ms. Kay, continually invited the family to her church, Bolivar United Methodist Church.
“She was very stubborn,” McFarlane said. “She just wouldn’t let it go.”
So, McFarlane tried out the Alpha class at the church. He had decided it was time to stop waiting for everything to be factually proven to him and to consider the possibility of acting on faith rather than facts.
He was surprised by some of the things he learned in Alpha, like the commonality between religions. Soon he was getting involved in the church and offering to do more to help out.
About a year ago he was asked to teach the kindergarten class. He made sure he researched the curriculum before the class each week, so he could answer any questions the children might have. But he became personally less interested in facts.
“I don’t really care about factual evidence so much now,” he said. “I’ve had facts thrown in my face my whole life.”
McFarlane initially wouldn’t talk about religion because he felt he wasn’t qualified to do so, having never been to seminary or received any formal religious education. After the Alpha class, he now realizes it is O.K. for him to share with people about religion.
“As it turns out, all you have to have it faith,” he said.
McFarlane works with people with special needs. Skills developed there were helpful in his recent role in coordinating “A Night to Shine,” a prom-like event for people with special needs that was held at the Bolivar UMC. The event is sponsored by the Tim Tebow foundation. He recruited help where he could find it, calling on one new person to the congregation who had just baptized a baby.
As the event approached, he was short on volunteers. Then the Southern Baptist University volleyball team said they would come. Other joined in as well, and the night was a great success.
“The whole thing was a roller coaster, but it played out better than I had hoped,” McFarlane said.
“A mother told me she had never seen her sons that happy,” McFarlane said.