I happened to drive past an old familiar friend yesterday, a church building. News through the grapevine indicates the church is now struggling to stay alive. The congregation has aged along with the neighborhood in which it is located, and there has not been the influx of young families to keep the membership thriving. Now their minister has chosen to move on, so they depend upon lay leadership until difficult decisions can be made, until what happens next can unfold. I last was in that church a few years ago, and wrote about my memories. I’ll share that with you here, in honor and memory of those who served Village Christian Church, in faith and with care for this little girl, naming me child of God so many years ago…
I visited my childhood church yesterday to hear the choral Christmas cantata, which has become an annual pilgrimage for me. As I sat in those worn pews and saw the old(er) familiar faces of the people who have always been there, I felt a longing for days gone by. My heart was touched when dear family friend I’d lost touch with, came up behind me and hugged me, with genuine warmth in her eyes to see me.
A few things have changed….the gold glass in the windows are now shades of turquoise stained glass art; the floors are carpeted in teal instead of the original white marble tile, the choir sits in the center behind the communion table instead of behind the pulpits. There are fewer restless children and more aluminum walkers in the aisles. Some things have not changed….the communion table is the same. The trays for the wafers and juice are the same. The gold cross on the front wall remains as always. I became nostalgic, reminded of the days I sat next to my parents and siblings in that place, worshipping each Sunday as a child, singing the hymns and counting the gold wall tiles in the front of the sanctuary to pass the time.
In spite of the changes within those sanctuary walls, I could still feel the warm, loving care I’d received there. That was the place where I used to wear the little white angel choir robe and tinsel halo for the Christmas pageant; where I waved green branches and awkwardly marched through the aisles on Palm Sundays; that was the pulpit where I first read scripture in a service; that is where adults who were not my parents taught me and displayed felt figures depicting bible stories; where those same adults showed me how to make sprayed macaroni art, sang lyrics about Jesus and melodies of God’s creation with me, and told me that I was a loved child of God. It is the place that I spoke my vows in marriage to my beloved. It is a sacred place for me. I realized it all over again sitting there with the morning sun streaming through the narrow glass windows above the minister’s pulpit, the rays of sunlight illuminating the advent candles flickering among the greens.
And I missed my parents. I missed the soft swoosh-swoosh sounds of dad polishing his shoes at the kitchen table, readying them as the final touch to his suit and tie for Sunday service. I missed the orange rolls, split and baked with half the dough to make twice as many, so we could each have two instead of one. I missed the feel of shiny patent leather shoes and lace anklets on my feet. I missed the red ‘velvet’ pew cushions under my behind and the way my feet dangled and swayed above the floor because I wasn’t tall enough yet for them to touch when I sat. I missed the clear, confident sound of mom’s voice singing hymns next to me. I missed the silliness that my brother would instigate when he got bored…then the stern ‘behave’ look mom would send our way. I missed singing the Doxology, remembering how it made me feel grown up to know all the words ‘by heart’ to an important song. I missed watching the communion trays being passed by me, knowing that one day I’d be able to participate too. I missed Dad’s strong voice giving the elder’s prayer for the elements at the table of remembrance. I missed the visit to my Grammy’s house after church, listening to the grown-ups talk as long as we could stand it, then heading outside to accept my brother’s challenge to see who could jump farthest off the back porch into the grass, while trying not to mess up our Sunday clothes.
My faith was born in that place, with the example and love from faithful parents, with the companionship of siblings, and with Christian nurturing from my church community.
I now have the experience and knowledge of years to understand that not every childhood was as fortunate. I am grateful for all the ways my family and my childhood church provided the sacred to me.