We had about six churches in our little town. The Methodist was a slender, straight church tapering to a steeple-bell, with the sanctuary jutting out from the T-arms of the other rooms at the back---quiet and scented of Johnson’s wax and lingers of perfume and something like an old man's wallet and the crackle of Cokesbury pages. That picturesque church was cramped on a lot inside the squares of sidewalk-all-round, but taken through a long-distance lens, it could have graced any green sway of hills in
I can still remember the Calligraphy-lettered names-in-black at the bottom of each of the twelve tall Gothic windows with their stained-glass radiances of crowns and shepherds gilding our cheeks and hair during eleven o'clock church. My young eyes had traced the shapes of those honored-in-glass names hundreds of times a year as the quiet annual succession of ministers (Methodists send;
Baptists invite) droned from that straight-from-IKEA blonde pulpit behind its matching In Remembrance Of Me table.
Tiny black classic fans up high between the windows moved in a synchronous dance of black filigree all the Sundays I was a member, in those ancient days before A/C, and even after, to "help it along" when the place was filled for funerals or convocations.
Even church suppers at the Methodist were quiet affairs---families came respectfully up the back steps and into the door of the big room used for suppers and the before-Sunday School assembly and wedding receptions, the Daddies lifting their hats from just-slicked after-work hair, and the Mamas bearing casseroles and platters with the whisper of waxed paper over the ham and the rolls and Apricot Nectar Cakes.
There was such a quiet presence to those meetings, those activities, even
by every kid in town, with the Baptists and the Catholics tamping down their
energy for the indoor parts. We said the Two Pledges, sang earnest, gentle songs,
and then did paper crafts, heard the Story, strung beads and tied yarn and burst
like a spillway through the doors for recess and KoolAid. Vacation
The Baptist, now---that was a huge pile of bricks, with enormous TARA columns filled with bees, and creaky, thunderous wood plank floors with the sway of pews like ocean waves into the distance. But it was LIVELY, somehow, with wonderful music and a gusto to the singing, with fiery exhortations from the pulpit when the Spirit moved them and the between-Sunday-School-and-Church scarcely-hushed chatter buzzing to a close only AFTER the choir filed in.
Forty conversations sounded like hundreds, echoing off those cavernous spaces and hard wood pews, with more going on as the places filled, and unmuted calls out three-rows-over to a neighbor in greeting. I loved it---it was full of life and energy, lots and lots of the young folks I knew from school, friends I'd envied for their fun tellings of happenings in church or VBS (which we all also attended---you just went to BOTH every Summer), and the year that we all made bookends by tapping tacks into little tombstone-shaped pieces of wood is memorable---we must have sounded like a woodpecker brawl in there . There were also youth trips and youth choir which met at five on Sundays, before BTU and evening services.
Their Church Suppers took on the aura of those Barn Dances (perish the thought) in which everyone gathered loudly, and all the females brought their VERY BEST casseroles and cakes and pies, served in their best dishes and garnished within an inch of their lives, like those checkered-napkin baskets auctioned off to admiring swains at a hoedown. There was kitchen-pride and surreptitious comparison involved in both denominations, but the Baptist Ladies seemed to set the best tables. They cooked more like they MEANT it.
That church also had a scent---one I can't name, but I'd recognize it this minute and be right there in that bright buzz of people and the spirit of hearty worship. I looked online at a friend's granddaughter's wedding recently in the local paper, and just by happenstance saw the obituary of my very first boyfriend, when we were about fourteen. I was immediately transported to the back row of those hard pews, way up under the overhang of the balcony, where all of us "couples" and other young folk sat during church. The memories rushed in, and I could smell all the same familiar scents---Broadman pages this time, as we shared the hymnal, the Vitalis on his elegantly-arranged pomp, the surrounding wisps of Evening in Paris and Chantilly and Blue Waltz and cold mouton jackets, and the lingering whiff of hot dogs or Frito Chili Pie and Pine-Sol wafting up from the downstairs kitchens.
I don’t believe I’d recognize the Odor of Sanctity, but that ole-time familiar scent of Church Gatherings---oh, yes.