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The Church From My Childhood

The other evening as I sat through one more governmental meeting, a discussion on adjusting a water bill for a church set my mind tumbling back to the long ago Sundays from my childhood.

Back then, when Sunday morning came, I walked up the hill from my grandparents home in West Raven, to attend Sunday School at the Raven Methodist Church.

When I picture this little church I sometimes visualize it as one of those little white clapboard churches, sitting snugly in a sunny valley, amidst an arbor of trees and flowers. While that doesn't come close to its real appearance does personify my feelings for the structure and the people who I met there.

The building where I attended Sunday School as a child was demolished years ago and now, an empty lot with scattered piles of debris and brambles marks its former location. Its triangular lot, at a crossroads in the community is probably not suitable for even a small structure by today's building codes.

The church was old, even when I made the walk ...or sometimes skip ...up the hill with my friends. It was a white frame structure but more than once it was obviously in need of a fresh coat of paint.

The one room held hard wooden pews, a piano and a pulpit with its communion table holding the collection plates and golden cross. On the back wall, was the board that stated attendance and offering from the previous week and a picture of Christ.

When I think of Christ, my mind will only picture his face as it appeared in that painting ...filled with compassion and knowledge beyond all understanding. I suppose that the image isn't important ...more, the many lessons learned there.

The single room also held what I picture as an enormous potbellied stove. That stove was the only heat the church had for years and years. It required the Sunday School Superintendent, Checker Cordle, to faithfully arrive early every Sunday to build the fire so that the building would be at least tolerable when the parishioners arrived.

The sanctuary also served as Sunday School classrooms for all the different age groups -- from toddlers through adults. My children's class seemed to always be placed in the pews nearest to the stove. From there we could watch the flames through the rusted out places on the stove, as they danced and soared from the lumps of coal that fueled them.

We were always told that the adults let us have the pews nearest the fire so that we would be warm. However, many of us wondered as we mashed and peeled the many coats of paint from the pews where the heat from the stove had blistered them, if the adults just couldn't stand the heat.

When our Sunday School lesson dealt with a mention of Hell we wondered how anything could be hotter than that old stove.

For the entire church to be warm, the area around the stove had to be hot ...very hot. So hot, the children could have worn their Easter finery for Christmas if the adults would have allowed it.

We all learned at an early age that crayons would melt if left in the pews near the stove and that glue would dry very fast in those same pews. Holidays at the old church were always special. I can remember wearing my new Easter dress with layers of stiff, itchy starched petticoats and white patent leather shoes to the service. I also remember the giggles around me every time the minister asked us to bow our heads in prayer. My new Easter hat, which resembled a silky paper plate covered with flowers and bows, would slide down over my eyes and attempt to leave my head altogether. Mom had tied the ribbon under my neck as tightly as she could without strangling me but the design of the hat wasn't a good fit with my head. I don't think I have ever been to a service that had as many prayers!

For weeks before Christmas my Sunday School class would rehearse our yearly Christmas pageant. The leads were given to the older children -- for years I was a Wise Man. That was preferable to being a shepherd. We Magi got to use the best sheets from our homes. This was in the days when everyone used white sheets and after all, what mother would allow the neighbors to see that a dingy, yellowed, or ragged sheet that hadn't been torn up for rags?

The three or us had jeweled crowns and were allowed to cover the sheets with as much costume jewelry as we could talk our mother's out of. I truly felt like royalty as I walked up the isle of that small church the night of the pageant and laid my gift for the Baby Jesus at the manger.

When the pageant was over we would exchange presents. Then at Sunday School we would all receive a treat bag filled with fruit, nuts and candy.

Over the years, I had many Sunday School teachers, but Pauline Plaster is the one I remember the most vividly, for she instructed my class during our preteens. We were all at that age when we didn't want to be thought of as children but neither did any of us want the responsibilities that went along with adulthood. Pauline was patient with us all and tried her best to keep this energetic group on the lesson of the day -- no easy task with a group of boys and girls who thought they already knew everything. Not that we were disruptive -- how disruptive could you be with all the adults only a few pews away.

I never had the guts to pull some of the stunts I heard my elders talk about doing in church. My Great Aunt Ola was a storyteller and her favorite was of the time she was throwing spit wads during a very long service. During a hymn, one of the boys in her group was singing lustily so she aimed a spit wad at him and made a direct hit. He choked and sputtered but never gave her away. A few days later Aunt Ola learned that the young man was critically ill in the hospital. He died a few days after she visited his bedside. She always wondered if a germ from the spit wad had been the culprit.

Maybe I just was afraid that in the more modern world I would be charged with murder. Whatever the reason, we weren't that bad. I will never forget the Easter Egg Hunt Pauline held at her home for the class. We thought we were too old for eggs and baskets but after much discussion some of us decided to attend. We all had the time of our lives. I'll never forget winning the large chocolate bunny, or the smile on Pauline's face as she awarded it to me.

From time to time I see a friend from that church. It is like greeting a family member. That's how it was in that small church. It was a place filled with valuable lessons that I carry with me today treat others just as you would want them to treat you honestly, truthfully, and with respect.

This gift makes me feel warm and happy just as I did in my childhood when I attended the little white church on the hill! Thank you so very much.

These gifts are from sisters from Angels of the Net.

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