It all began eight years ago, with a bet between two drum majors at South Mecklenburg High School.
Both would seek out a person they thought least likely to show up in church, then invite him or her to attend the next Sunday. The winner would be the one whose invitee accepted – and then kept going to church.
Anna Hanlin, one of the drum majors, had her eye on Brittany, a freshman in the school’s color guard. “She came from a very broken home,” Anna recalls, “and I felt like she needed a friend.”
To Anna’s surprise, Brittany immediately said yes. “It was kind of like God answered my prayers,” Brittany says of Anna’s invitation to worship with her family at Harrison United Methodist in Pineville.
As a young child living in New Jersey with her grandmother, Brittany found solace from her family’s poverty and turmoil in a Baptist church. But at 11 she moved to Charlotte with her mother. The churchgoing stopped. The turmoil continued, she and her mother kept their distance, and Brittany felt that God had forgotten her.
Then came Anna’s invitation.
|Left to right: Brittany, Maria Hanlin, and Anna Hanlin.|
Going to a predominantly white church was a different experience for Brittany. But she enjoyed the Hanlins and their church. And she could feel God’s presence again.
Brittany “started coming to church with us,” Anna says, “then spending the weekends with us, then spending weeks with us. And then, before we knew it, she was family.”
The Hanlins were hesitant at first, not wanting to usurp Brittany’s mother. But she never called looking for her daughter, and it was clear Brittany had a new home.
In 2010, Brittany, then 20, changed her last name to Hanlin. “Sissy” is what she now calls Anna. “Mom” is the Rev. Maria Hanlin, former head of Mecklenburg Ministries.
Over the past year, as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Chicago, Brittany worked with at-risk girls that reminded her of herself. That experience, followed by a lot of prayer, convinced her that God had a plan for her.
Next week, she’ll start divinity school at Vanderbilt University.
But first, this Sunday morning, Brittany Hanlin will don her adopted mother’s black robe and deliver her first-ever sermon at Charlotte’s Park Road Baptist Church.
Looking on from a front pew, beaming, will be the other Hanlins – including Anna, who clearly won that bet.
-- Tim Funk