The preparations began on Saturday evening with a bath, followed by my blonde hair being combed out and put up into curls, accompanied by much whining on my part. My stiff and itchy dress, homemade by Mama, was laundered and ironed. My shoes were polished and ready. The next day was Sunday, so with seven kids to get ready, Saturday preparations were a must in order to get to Sunday School on time the next morning.
I never had a Sunday School teacher that I didn't love, and each one seemed to value the privilege of sharing the eternal story with little hearts and minds. I loved it all, the songs we would sing, like This Little Light of Mine, Deep and Wide, Jesus Loves Me and all of the stories of the Bible shared with flannel graph illustrations.
In the churches we attended, following Sunday School the children were not shuffled off to children's church, but sat with mom and dad on the hard wooden pews throughout the duration of the Sunday morning service. There I learned to sing the hymns of the church along with the adults, finger scanning the words in the old red hymnal, while relishing the sounds of the spontaneous four part harmony that filled the sanctuary. Our only accompaniment was a tinny sounding piano, but, to me, it sounded like heaven.
I remember the uncomfortable hardness of the pew, the wiggling, the swinging of my feet, daddy, (in those years before he left us), picking me up and having me sit on his lap and telling me to be still and quiet. I remember how his wool suit was itchy against my tender skin. I also remember the tugging of the Holy Spirit on my heart, in spite of the fact that I'm sure I wasn't paying attention or understanding all that the minister was saying. I do remember that the message always contained the gospel. The truths that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, that each person needs to personally receive and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, that there is eternal life for those who do and eternal damnation for those who don't was made clear, and followed up by a plea for those who needed to do so to come forward to the altar.
I probably gave my heart to Jesus, as they worded it back then, just about every time there was an altar call. Part of it was because I didn't understand grace. (In fact, it wasn't until I was sixteen and read a copy of Fritz Ridenour's How To Be A Christian Without Being Religious that I truly understood that salvation is totally by grace, not by my own efforts.) Because of my misunderstanding of God's grace, I had a hypersensitive conscience and would ask Jesus to be my Savior and Lord over and over again. Yet, I never thought He was angry at me, never thought He would reject me or not love me, somehow, in some miraculous way, I was totally and completely confident that He would always receive me into His loving and open arms in spite of myself.
If it were possible to take a modern day video camera into one of those long ago church services and to put it online it would probably go viral, but not in a good way. It would probably be picked apart for how rudimentary it all was. There was no worship band, no worship team, no powerpoint, no polish to any of it. Yet, perhaps there are some things we've lost amidst all of the wonderful things we've gained in church life in the past few decades.
-Congregational participation. There was no worship team to worship for us. There was a tinny piano and a "song leader" who waved his arm to the beat. The congregation was the worship team. We learned the harmony by ear, blending our voices in worship to God spontaneously, untrained and untaught and uncoached. It was actually quite beautiful. I think we've lost something special in our over-dependence on others to lead us in worship.
-The simple gospel. Communicating the reason why God sent His Son Jesus and the need for individuals to receive Him as Savior and Lord was the goal of the weekly sermon. All of the scripture was used to lead back to this beautiful foundational truth.
-Relationships. The churches I attended were relatively small. I don't even know if there was such a thing as mega churches back then. There certainly wasn't the option to stay home and watch church online or listen to podcasts. So, church was about relationships. It was about knowing Sister H was praying for our family when Daddy left us and our world fell apart. It was about someone coming and picking us up and giving us a ride. It was about invitations to Sunday dinner, potlucks, fellowship. It was about church being a family and caring for one another.
I'm so very grateful, primarily, that God had his hand upon that wiggly little girl sitting on that old wooden pew in church, and that He has never, not once, let her go. I'm also grateful that my Mama kept us in church when our world at home fell apart. Imperfect as it was, the love of God through that little church, saved us. I was a church kid, and Jesus and His church made all the difference for me.