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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal

Is It The Package or The Contents?

J. D. Pendry

While sitting in the palatial sanctuary of the Church my wife and I now attend, during one of those choral interludes mentioned in the program my mind began to wander. I found myself sitting in the little country Church of my childhood. I remembered the dust from the unpaved road that passed by. The sparkling white, wood siding of the old Church seemed to shed the red dust that attached itself to everything else near the road. I recalled every male from the oldest to the youngest wearing a starched white shirt. The Levi jeans may have been the same as worn everyday, but the Sunday shirt was always there. The women, also from the youngest to the oldest, would wear their Sunday best. "Sunday go to meetin' clothes" is what we called them. They were worn to Church, funerals, weddings and not much else. Looking around the sanctuary now, practically every manner of dress you may think of was there. Everything from polo shirts to mini-skirts to World Wrestling Federation tee-shirts. Of course there is no rule about how one should dress for Church and there can never be. It just seemed to me a sign of respect to wear Sunday's best into this special place.

I remembered seeing entire families from the grandparents down to the grandchildren sitting in the same pew and receiving the same message from the preacher. In this palatial sanctuary now sits mostly grandparents. I remembered an earlier sermon where the pastor told us that during the 50's it was common for more than eight hundred to attend Sunday services at our Church. Now, as we approach the millennium we're fortunate if the attendance approaches three hundred. As I survey the sanctuary, noticeably absent is the group that's my age, approaching 50. The baby boomer, me generation gets to add another dubious honor to its resume. There are only a few youngsters present, some very young and a few middle and high school aged - a number proportionate to those the right ages to be their parents. I couldn't help but wonder whom, if anyone would attend another decade from now. How many children would sit with their parents and learn that the real meaning of Christmas has little to do with a jolly little old man passing out toys, or learn that the lessons of Easter renewal make no mention of chocolate eggs or a bunny? When are these missing children going to learn about the commandments, values, and treating others with dignity and respect? I wasn't sure if the me generation scheduled time in their day planners to teach their children those lessons.

As I looked up toward the altar I watched our Minister of Music Directing the choir. Sitting there while he directs the choir are two other ministers. I'm not certain about the title of one of them, although he makes the church announcements and the call to worship. He's not a deacon because the fourth person at the altar when service begins is the deacon whose duty it is to lead the congregation in an opening prayer. Then there is our pastor, who follows his queue in the program and begins and ends a well-crafted sermon - on schedule. Maybe my memory doesn't serve me well, but I just don't remember so many folks on the altar during service in that country Church I remembered as a youngster. I don't recall a choir to speak of. Occasionally one of the ladies, who could, would sing a special song. Otherwise, the preacher would say open up your hymn books and let's sing and the next thing you knew he was blasting out at the top of his lungs Amazing grace how sweet the sound, while the piano and the rest of us tried to catch up. Clearly not as well rehearsed as what I was watching now. Then he'd grab up his bible, clutch it in his hand, walk back and forth, and preach the gospel until he completed his sermon. No one dozed during these sermons and there was no scheduled time to end in the program - there was no program.

As the announcements minister finished with his church announcements he gave an offertory prayer and a platoon of deacons with shiny brass collection plates descended on us. As the plates were passed, pre-printed envelopes holding the weekly tithes and offerings were dropped in. I remembered a straw collection plate in the country Church. I also remember it collecting lots of quarters, dimes and nickels, no pre-printed envelopes and very little green folding money. In this church the offering is taken before the sermon, in the country Church it was taken after the sermon. It's kind of like collect the money up front in case someone might sneak out early.

Looking around the sanctuary I'm impressed with the ornamentation, the cushioned pews and the large stained-glass windows. There's even a baptismal right behind the altar. In the old country Church, the pews were hard and shiny from much use, there was no stained-glass and the preacher used a nearby creek for baptism.

I learned a great deal of life's values in that little white church by a dusty dirt road. Our preacher was a coal-miner who relied on life's experiences and the desire to serve. I'm not sure of his educational credentials, but I'm sure they were not as impressive as the collection of folks running this service. He never had notes, an outline or anything else that I could recall. He did keep your attention, because if things quieted down he'd slam his fist into the pulpit and bellow out a praise the lord that was guaranteed to startle potential nappers awake - babies too.

I guess I'm starting to wonder what the point of this discussion is. Could it be that the lessons we have to learn and pass on to our children have become less important than the place where we learn and teach them. Are we sometimes more concerned about the package than the contents?

© 2000 J. D. Pendry