Friday, March 22, 2013

WE GATHER TOGETHER



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 England.
 
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 Vacation Bible School---attended 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.
 
 
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.
 

8 comments:

DearHelenHartman said...

LOVED it! Was humming along as I read.

jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Good morning Rachel, I love your church stories this fine snowy day. Yep, we are getting dumped on. I guess we are grounded. It is supposed to snow for 24 hours. Probably tapering off to flurries. Right now we can't see our mountains. Pretty but I am ready for spring.

Your stories brought back such memories of our church days of old. We were raised in a Baptist church with Bible School and good old fashioned revivals under a tent. That was when we moved to Florida. I was nine. In later years after marriage we joined a Methodist church with our five children because it was in our neighborhood. We belong to a Methodist church now where we love the people and our minister. There were some in between churches because we moved about every five years because of Bill's job but all in Fl. Our church families were so important in our lives.

I enjoyed the way you described the sights and smells of life in your church. Potluck dinners, Bible school in more than one church is what we did too. Oh how I loved Bible school. Our children did too. The blessings from those activities were so meaningful weren't they? I must say the old Methodist churches were all so beautiful with lots of stained glass and wood paneling.

Thank you for bringing me some awesome memories this morning. Thank you for your sweet comments as well.
May the blessings of the Easter season give you hope and inspiration and most of all renewed faith. Easter's story has a way of really bringing us closer to our Lord in a wonderful way.
Blessings and love to you and yours,
Jeanne

Southern Lady said...

I loved this, Rachel ... I can just hear the choir at the Baptist Church singing all SIX verses of Just As I Am, while waiting for the ushers to collect the offering.

I will never cease to be amazed at the pictures worthy of a Norman Rockwell calendar that you can paint with words.

Bev said...

Happy Easter Miss Rachel! Love ya.

Kim Shook said...

Wonderful memories. HOT summers - I remember being glad that my grandmother's Presbyterians didn't get up and down as much as us Episcopalians, because I was always stuck to the pew with sweat! And VBS Kool-Aid is the same the world over, I think. They never used a full packet when half a one would do!

Keetha said...

Oh, I've missed visiting here. I love your writing so. This: "the whisper of waxed paper," yes, just yes.

I grew up in a Baptist church, one with the big white columns. Although I always thought of the Methodists as being the fun group - I don't know why! We had plenty of fun - GAs, Training Union.

This is great - thanks for visiting.

FABBY'S LIVING said...

Love this song dear Rachel! I enjoyed your post so much, they bring me memories of my childhood..ok, teen years too, it's not like I've stopped going to church, lol..! I love the stories you tell, like potluck dinners, etc. Thank you for your visit, you are so sweet. I didn't erase either comment..why should I?..the one is a copy! Enjoy your weekend.
FABBY

jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Hi Rachel, I just read your comment about the carpet in Belgium. It does boggle the mind. I was so interested in how you searched for European cities and found Belgium. How interesting.

Thank you for the many sweetest comments about our coming anniversary. I feel like my poor friends have repeatedly been exposed to our big day. HA! I am sure there will be at least one more post about the actual party. This has been going on since our cruise. We am so excited about it all. Last night I finally finished making over 400 mints to have for the party. These mints are individually made by pressing the powdered sugar, creamed cheese, food coloring and mint flavoring mixture in to a single mold. It took me two evenings in a row, three hours each evening. A labor of love because they taste so good. Have you ever made them? My family have made these mints for all big occasions in our family such as; Weddings, showers, etc.

Have a wonderful week Rachel. I am on a sort of blog break.

Love, Jeanne