On our Florida trip, we found ourselves in a lovely beachfront condo, right next door to the famous (or infamous) Flora-Bama – a bar at the Florida-Alabama state line. We spent our young married life in the area, so we had heard the name. Flora-Bama – “Lounge, Package, Oyster Bar, Yacht Club & Marina”, billing itself as “The Last Great American Roadhouse”. They had their 50th anniversary last summer, and Kenny Chesney held a free concert with the stage apparently set up right in front of our condo!
We visited the gift shop, looking skeptically at T-shirts proclaiming “My Church is @ the Flora-Bama”. My friends & I interpreted that as “My faith consists of partying & drinking”. As we checked out, the cashier invited us to Sunday church. (???????????)
Okay, this was intriguing…
I asked, “I assume ‘casual dress’ is okay?”
“Oh, yeah, you can come in a bikini with a Bushwhaker (the local signature adult beverage), and come right here to buy a Lotto ticket after!”
On the way back to the condo, I remarked to a friend, “And don’t be too serious about your faith, either!” (insert sarcasm here)
HOWEVER, ‘right next door’ on Sunday was too convenient to resist, so half of us braved the uncertainty and showed up at the Flora-Bama Bingo Hall at 9am, fully prepared to walk out if they were making a mockery of ‘Sunday Church’.
MAN were we surprised!!! As we walked in, the worship team (Radical Grace) was on stage in a prayer circle. They began worship with “The Old Rugged Cross”, and finished with “Our God”, which I hear on Contemporary Christian radio all the time. The pastor was young, dynamic, and TOTALLY Bible-based – preaching about the vine & the branches. I felt comfortably at home, and so did Larry & everyone with me. The place was PACKED – and they expected an even greater crowd at the 11am service. The only concession to their rock-n-roll roots was that they played an instrumental verson of Sweet Home Alabama during the social greeting!
There were folks our age in khakis & collared shirts – and younger folks in shorts & T-shirts – I didn’t see a single bikini or Bushwhacker, but I did see many hands raised to the Lord in praise. This service was truly legit!
They had a Mens & Womens Bible Study between services, and they announced numerous ministries – a ‘Trunk or Treat’ for Halloween, a ministry for Wounded Veterans, and (not surprisingly) a support group for substance/alcohol abuse, among other ministries. The service was also live streamed to a couple of other bars/restaurants in the area.
We loved the ‘Honky Tonk Hymnal’ – it was the best collection of old hymns from my Baptist roots and contemporary Christian songs I’ve ever seen. They’re not for sale, and they invoked the 7th commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”! We obeyed, but perhaps we broke the 10th commandment about ‘coveting thy neighbor’s goods’. 😀
A side note: During the greeting time, they were looking for the first-time visitor who had traveled the farthest. It was between me & a lady from Chicago. I WON, and guess what I got? That T-shirt saying “My Church is @ the Flora-Bama”. Upon closer observation, that shirt also had Matthew 25:40 on the back, and I’m (now) proud to wear it. I chose the bright pink color, ’cause I wanna wear bright colors on my Trek!
Another side note: ‘Chicago’ was on our flight back home out of Pensacola – we had a nice conversation about that awesome church service and the fact that I beat her out for the T-shirt! 😀