September 20, 2010

Church of My Childhood (MDIV 555)

Journal for September 16, 2010

I never disliked church. We began attending the Elkhorn United Methodist Church when I was six. I hated getting up in the morning, any morning, but my mother insisted on attending the early service. When she stood to sing hymns, I would lay down in the pew behind her. After the opening hymn, remarks, and scripture, the children would gather on the steps of the dias for the children’s service and Reverend Bill, the first pastor I remember clearly, would tell us a little story. Afterward, if we wanted, we could go to the play room with one of the teenage girls, rather than stay for the next forty minutes. As bored as I sometimes was, I rarely went. The other children were loud and babyish. The rest of the service was orderly and soothing, if not terribly exciting.

Afterward, we would gather in the fellowship hall for donuts and coffee, or juice for us little ones. Then it was off to Sunday school. I got an award for memorizing and reciting all the books of the Bible that year. But very soon I was discontent with that as well. My mother (a smart woman) got me to put up with Sunday school by making me a “helper” in a class with younger children. She was able to go to adult Bible study as a result without worrying about me.

When I was in seventh grade and my brother, Brandon, in eighth, we attended confirmation class with Reverend Bill. I liked Bill. He was tall and blonde and outdoorsy with three tall, blonde, outdoorsy children just a little younger than I. One of them always had a cast on some body part. They were as accident prone as they were adventurous; only Bill’s calm, strong wife seemed imune. I saw Reverend Bill preach with his arm in a cast to the shoulder, his elbow at a ninety degree angle and hand stuck up in the air. He preached on crutches and in wheelchairs and attached to an intravenous drip and when he could barely talk. He never seemed an ounce less cheerful or less trusting in God for all the misfortune that befell him and his three rambuncuous kids. (All of whom are still alive and well, so far as I know.)

Most of what I remember from confirmation class were the outings, bicycle rides, camping, and hiking. If we were instilled with good Christian values, beyond just getting along and having fun, I don’t remember them. I was a little young for confirmation, only twelve, but Heaven forbid Brandon got to do anything I couldn’t do. During the confirmation ceremony, in front of the entire church, we stood up in our white robes and promised to be good Christians, whatever that meant. I stood between my tall brother and an even taller boy his age. When it was my turn, Reverand Bill skipped me, and I had to speak up, rather indignantly as I recall. (I grew six inches the next summer.) If I believed in signs, that might have been one of them.

But now that I was an “adult” member of the church, I was at loose ends. I could go to youth group after church, while Mom was in Bible study. (Dad was there, but I really don’t recall where. He didn’t go to Bible study, but he couldn’t leave the church without us. I suspect he found a quiet place to read and listen to sports on the radio.) I really didn’t like teenagers, even though I was a teenager. It gave me time to think. And for a change, I actually started listening to the sermons.

That, all things considered, might have been a mistake.

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