DEAR CHURCH OF MY YOUTH
I was there just months after I was born. My mother and father cradled me in their arms as the Pastor spoke words of blessing. My aunt and my uncle held me there while the Pastor poured cool water over my head, and I’m told I cried when it touched me.
I was there every Sunday as a child, sitting in between my father, always blocking the aisle, and my mother, always cutting off the rest of the pew. I would sit on the cushioned bar on the floor, meant for kneeling in prayer, with a brag of worn down crayons and the children’s pamphlet the men outside the doors would hand to my parents. I would color in the pictures of men in long dresses and connect the dots to form figures of crosses and doves. The Pastor would direct the sermon, and my parents would follow his words: stand up, sing along to the hymns, sit down, pray. I focused on my coloring and nibbled on the snacks my mother brought in her purse.
As I grew older, I had to be there earlier on those days to go to Sunday School. I would be in the basement of this place, with a group of other children my age, a teacher sitting in front of us, reading us one of the stories from my coloring pictures. I did not want to be there, and eventually, I didn’t have to.
I was there, but not as I grew up. Church became a long single hallway with small classrooms lining either side where I learned what the Pastor was telling my parents every Sunday. When I was still small, I had my classes down in the basement. We were taught who Jesus was. As I grew, I moved down the hallway, classroom to classroom, closer to the stairs. I continued to learn the stories of Jesus, memorized his words, and sang his hymns. I moved along, up the stairs, working through the classrooms up there. Time passed, and I began to understand the stories. I could recite the words, and sing the songs by heart.
I was still there every Sunday, though I traded my crayons and coloring books for the pamphlets and hymnals my parents used. I would follow along as the Pastor read the sermon, stand up, sing the songs, I could now sing without even looking at the words, sit down, be quiet, listen. I was there with my family, practicing what I was learning.
I was there right after school on Tuesdays, in front of the church, in the space between the first pews and the pulpit. I would go into the back room to grab large black folding tables to set up, a box of black binders that held music sheets, highlighted accordingly, and two large black cases, buckled shut so the instruments didn’t fall out. I would find the two chimes that were assigned to me, the black binder that went along with it, and then my spot in line behind the black table. I stood quietly, a chime on each shoulder, waiting for my signal. I would flick my wrist and the chime would play, we would make music to play on Sunday.
I was there every Wednesday afternoon, in the balcony overlooking the whole church, for choir practice. I was amazed at the floor to ceiling organ that my choir teacher would play in every Sunday service. I would sing the songs I learned in my classes, in praise. I was there until three o’clock, when I had to leave to catch the city bus to go home.
I was there every other Sunday or so. Things would come up, I would sleep in too long. I was learning the stories and singing the songs in the classroom. Did I need to learn them again in this place?
I was there on my Confirmation, standing in front of the entire congregation. I knelt before the Pastor on the cushions. My head was bowed, and my hands were folded. He gave me the wafer and the wine; I choked it down with a cough. I was a part of the place now.
I was there when I saw my father was going to go alone on Saturday, to the late night service they hold. As he walked around the house getting ready, I asked if I can go along. I do not want him to go alone, or was it, I did not want him to be seen alone?
Now, I am only there on holidays and that is, if I am home. I am there on Christmas Eve, to watch the program given by the students of the school. I sit and watch as each grade stands and recites the words they have memorized that I memorized long ago, and sing the songs that I sang long ago, to tell the story of Jesus. I remember when I was standing up front with my classmates, waiting for our teacher to queue us in to our parts. Back then, I was not focused on the message but on whether or not I could find my parents in the crowd or what Santa was bringing me that night while I was fast asleep. Now, as I listen to the words, I understand the meaning. I think about why I am only here on holidays, on the occasions when all the other part-timers like me choose to make an appearance. Why did I change from the all the time to the part time?