Last Sunday at St. Catherine’s was a lot more fun than usual. While Deacon Albert’s sermon was as interesting and thought provoking as usual, the entertainment in the pews was unexpectedly delightful. I was surrounded by little people.
A little boy, about six years old, sat directly in front of me. His mother, and an older brother sat to his left. Another young man, about five years old, sat next to me. His mother and an older sister, maybe seven years old, sat on the other side of him. His mother held a toddler in her arms. God’s little blessings.
The boy in front of me sat on the kneeler and used the bench as a table to quietly draw pictures with a pencil and paper. He was in his own little world, being quiet and oblivious to what was going on. The little guy beside me leaned over the pew to watch the other boy draw. I watched too. The artist drew a car. Then a road. Houses came next. Then the artist crashed the car into a tree. Surprised by the crash, the boy next to me gave a little jump. The artist looked up. The two boys locked eyes. Simultaneously, they raised their eyebrows, their mouths turned to grins, and mischievousness sparkled from their eyes.
One boy dropped to the floor. The other followed suit. They grinned at each other between the kneelers under the pew. One kid got popped by his mother and stood up. The other kid came up too. They made faces at each other and then stifled their laughs. Whenever they wiggled too much, a mother reined her son in. Big sister looked over at her little brother, frowned, then rolled her eyes – frequently. Big brother, while acting quite grown up, managed to stick out his tongue at least once. Toddler sister decided to sing loudly in church during prayers, which set the boys off into silent giggles until her daddy took the little one out. The children never stopped moving. If they had been wearing step trackers, they would have added a thousand steps without leaving the pew. The children, while always moving, never made a sound. You could tell they had been to church before. They’ve learned to be quiet. Soon they will learn to sit still. I’m still working on that myself.
Some of my earliest memories are from going to church. The first ten years of my life my family lived in West Pittsburg and went to the Community Covenant Church. While the adults were in church, the kids went to Sunday school.
The best thing about Sunday school were the songs. We children gathered in a large room before going to our classrooms. We sang songs like “This Little Light of Mine,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock,” and “Rise and Shine.” Sometimes the song leaders asked for song requests from the children. When I was four, I raised my hand because I had a new song I learned and I really wanted to sing it! Unfortunately, the grown-ups didn’t think “Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” was an appropriate song for Sunday School.
My older sisters were teenagers when I was born. Brenda taught preschoolers and Karen helped out where needed, so they took me to Sunday School. By the time they grew up and left home I was old enough to walk to church by myself on the Sundays that my mother worked. I can still see Mama laying out a clean handkerchief on the table and putting coins (usually twenty-five cents) for the offering in the corner of the “hankie.” She rolled the hankie up like a cinnamon roll and tied the ends together. I never lost that little bundle. There were poor people who needed our coins.
In Sunday School, we colored pictures and did craft projects that coordinated with the liturgy in church that week. We had a “felt board,” which was a board covered in felt. The teachers used felt backed paper cut outs of bible characters to tell stories. As the story was told the characters moved on the board. I remember being fascinated with the story of Zacchaeus, a wee little man, who had to climb high into a sycamore tree to see Jesus. I liked the song too.
Over the years I learned about King Solomon, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Job, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Joseph and his coat of many colors, and many more stories. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, hold the horse while I get on,” was a ditty my teacher rewrote to remember the books of the bible.
Bible stories, while exciting, adventurous, dramatic, and sometimes funny, always have a moral lesson to them. I learned about honesty, loyalty, respectfulness, and responsibility. I came to understand humility, compassion, fairness, and forgiveness.
My mother was a great believer in being part of a community. When I was sixteen, a call went out to our congregation that there would be a blood drive for one of our members in need. We didn’t know the woman, but she was part of our church family. My mother had had cancer so she couldn’t donate blood. She brought me down to the blood bank instead. Generosity, kindness, and community support were traits I learned in church.
I didn’t realize how much history I had learned in Sunday school until I got to college. A world history professor at DVC offered extra credit for anyone willing to read books off of his special reading list. A friend chose to read the Old Testament and take the oral exam. I went with her because she was my ride home that day. The professor asked her questions about the bible and how it pertained to current events. I was surprised to find that I knew the answers too. Sunday school is also good for college credit.
I earned two bibles in Sunday school. The first I earned at our church in West Pittsburg for two years of perfect attendance. When I spent the weekend with my grandmother in Colfax, she took me to her Methodist church. I went to Sunday school there with my cousins. I brought back a signed church bulletin to prove I had been in church. The bible is blue and has my name in silver on the front.
I earned the second bible after we moved to Antioch. I memorized bible verses, the Apostle’s creed, the commandments, and more, at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. The bible is red and has my name embossed in gold on the front cover. I keep the bibles on a shelf next to the bible my mother earned as a child in Port Chicago more than ninety years ago. Her bible has a really cool zipper. I finally read the Old Testament from her bible. The bible stories in Sunday school were more fun.
Wherever you go to church, the weekly sermons are always interesting and thought provoking. Most pastors I’ve met are pretty good at jokes and stories too. The church service is well worth the price of a few coins in the basket.
But church is always better when there’s a little unexpected entertainment.