Remembering the Sabbath

A row of ornate brown wooden church pews

Ahh…Sundays; who doesn’t love them?

Well, probably all the folks who have to punch a clock. This means anyone employed in a service industry, such as retail, restaurants, or the medical field. I spent many years in the retail sector and don’t miss working evenings, weekends, and those frantic holidays.

Some of you may remember when stores were closed on Sundays, or had reduced hours. The idea was to keep the day open for church and family. My first job at 16 was at a grocery store, which was open from 9am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday. We were closed on Sundays. A few years after I started they began Sunday hours from 10am to 2pm.

For Christians, Sunday is a day of worship. I have fond memories attending church with my grandma where the members were called “born again.” As a small child I didn’t understand; I thought being born was something you only did once. Later, after listening to enough sermons, I understood the concept. Whenever someone asked if I went to church I said that I went to the Born Again one on Cedar Avenue.

The building was small with a center aisle leading to the altar, which consisted of a raised platform with a rail around it. In the center was the podium that held a large Bible. All the women sat on the left side and wore dresses and what appeared to be doilies on their heads. Pants were not allowed. They also weren’t permitted to wear jewelry other than wedding rings. The men sat on the right in dark suits and shoes. It had a simple design; minimalist with no ornate architecture or stained glass windows. The church was plain like its members.

I enjoyed the hymns and listening to my great-aunt’s voice quiver as she tried to hit the high notes, but failed. The organ was played by the pastor’s daughter, an awkward teenager who managed a few notes off key each week, but I still thought it was lovely. She wore a doily and I was jealous. Neither she nor I were old enough; you had to be 18. But, they made an exception because she played the organ. 

A child's praying hands

After the gathering prayers there was a Bible study for the adults, while the kids had Sunday school in one of the back rooms of the church. I loved Sunday school and hearing the stories from the Bible. We did fun crafts with cool things like pipe cleaners and pasta noodles. There were songs and Bible verses. If we minded the teacher we usually got a cookie. After that the children joined the adults for the main service.

I tried desperately to pay attention, but it was hard. The pastor was a nice man who gave long-winded exhortations and heavily punctuated them with the word “Lord.” What I remember most were his stories of hell; that fiery pit of damnation, where all sinners went after death. Sinning involved things like gambling, dancing, and going to the movies. Spending time in beer gardens would earn you a one-way ticket to the devil’s house, as well. Then there was the sin of coveting. You could covet your neighbor’s goods, including their wife, but it wasn’t advisable. Interestingly, I never heard him talk about coveting your neighbor’s husband.

I was still young and had no interest in gambling or beer, but I did like dancing and movies. And jewelry. I was guilty of wanting some things the other kids had, so that meant I was a coveter.

He went into great detail about the horrors these evil-doers could expect and described their “grinding and gnashing of teeth” when they were thrown into the fiery pit. I didn’t ever want to go there, but worried constantly about whether I could tow the line.

Sometimes people from other Born Again churches came for something called Fellowship. I liked Fellowship Sundays because they involved a luncheon and yummy desserts like Grandma’s pineapple squares. In a room off the kitchen they would set up a long table filled with mismatched dishes for a potluck feast. These delicious foods were put in the oven on low temperatures until the end of the morning services. The kitchen was right next to the church where the congregation sat and the tantalizing aromas made it especially hard to focus on the pastor’s lengthy sermon.

It was fun playing with the kids from the visiting churches, whom we only saw once in awhile. The downside was the extra long homilies. Our pastor and the visiting one both took a turn at the pulpit and it cut into the fun parts of Fellowship.

Holy Bible on a stand

There’s also nice memories from our Sunday school holiday programs. Prior to Christmas and Easter each year, we would receive a typed out Bible verse on a scrap of paper, which had to be memorized. If I received one longer than two sentences I panicked. I was terrified of forgetting my lines and believed anything over two sentences was tempting fate.

Ater our Christmas program we received a small box of candy wrapped and tied with a pretty bow. For Easter we received a small chocolate bunny, but these gifts came with a stern reminder of the true “reason of the season.” We were never to forget that it was Christ’s birth and resurrection. I always thanked Jesus before enjoying the Christmas candy or biting the ears off the rabbit.

Christmas caroling is another wonderful memory I have of those days. It was always snowy in December and we crunched over the icy sidewalks singing in our best voices. People would open their doors or come onto their porches smiling broadly and nodding. Sometimes they joined in with our singing. After we finished they would clap and thank us for bringing them good tidings of great joy. It made me feel quite important and happy inside. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to bring good tidings of great joy. Usually, you have to be at school or work, if you’re a grown up.

Caroling at the nursing home was another story. As a little kid I didn’t understand why some of the old people didn’t smile and nod. Or clap when we finished. A few of them would stare at us, expressionless. They suffered from awful bedhead and their eyes appeared to see things I couldn’t, and it scared me. It also felt far too warm for the weird smells that circulated. I thought a few cracked windows might do the trick. There was a mixture of sadness and fear in my heart every year that we visited. Once we were back outside in the fresh air there was relief. I never outgrew these feelings and they remained as I visited my own parents in their respective nursing homes. For different reasons, of course.

Our memories are selective and we tend to recall happy times, while letting the somber ones slip away. Reminiscing about those early years at the Born Again church makes me happy. It’s a strong connection to my elders who are now all gone. My grandma, great-aunts and great-uncles. The friends I made back then are also gone from my life.

I left the church around the age of 15. I wanted to wear makeup and jewelry and go to the movies and dances. I wanted to play card games and do a lot ot the things that were frowned upon. I believed you could be a good person with or without the doily.

But, I learned the stories of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, and that we’re supposed to love our neighbors. I learned about forgiveness and being forgiven. Despite rejecting some of their practices, I kept the truly valuable lessons.

I’m grateful to my grandma for helping instill the tenets of what it takes to be a good and decent person, with or without the church. She gave me many gifts throughout my life, but that was the most precious of all.

Every time I do the right thing or make the right choice I think of her. And that’s a legacy that I know she would be proud of.

Photo credits: Pixabay

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