The second Sunday of my life, over 60 years ago, was spent at church. My mother was a charter member of the little church in the town closest to our farm. The farm was way to heck out in the country with no one around all week except the delivery people who brought things like propane, gasoline, fertilizer, and other sundry things you need to keep a farm going. My mother enjoyed going to church on Sunday, to worship the Lord who continually blessed her and the land we lived on, and to see other people. She believed in community and serving others. My dad believed you could have those things without going to church, but he always took my mother and me to church, any time we wanted to go. He also painted the church and did various maintenance jobs that my mother told him needed to be done. Church was a valuable part of the community.
That little Baptist church had hard wooden pews and an open ceiling. I would lie down when I could on one of those pews and look up into the rafters. My mother wouldn’t allow that for long, though; I was to sit up, pay attention, and be quiet. Nor was I to sit on a pew where she wasn’t sitting. It didn’t work that way with her. I learned that sitting for an hour would not kill me. I learned to think about things when the sermon was over my head. I learned how to shake hands and speak to adults who spoke to me. I learned to be kind to strangers who came through the door because they might be angels among us.
When you called on someone you took a cake or a pie, or if you were in a pinch, a jar of homemake preserves. You never went empty handed. I learned that certain dishes were made for funeral meals, dishes like potato salad, meatloaf, fried chicken. When someone died, my mother cooked. We went to baby showers, wedding showers, and housewarmings. I learned how to make small talk with grownups because my mother did not have anyone who could be a babysitter for me. And she liked going to these events that involved the members and their families of that little Baptist church.
My mother knew people in the community and she knew which churches they attended. Not everyone was Baptist. There were Methodists, Lutherans, Church of Christ, and Catholics. Didn’t matter to my mother what denomination you belonged to, just as long as you belonged. Didn’t matter that you all agreed on the way things were done, either. Just mattered that you believed in Christ as Lord and Savior and that you lived your life like you believed in what the Bible said.
Somewhere along the line, my mother got upset with the way things were going at the little Baptist church. I don’t remember any of the details, but I know she didn’t attend church for awhile. She visited other churches. I went along. Daddy, too, because he had to drive. Did I mention, Mama didn’t drive. Having grown up in Arkansas, in the Ozarks, where there might not be a preacher living in town, my mother was accustomed to traveling preachers, itinerant preachers they were called. Her uncle had been such a minister.
She remembered one such minister being from a denomination of Primitive Baptist and so went on the lookout for such a church here in the Central Valley. I don’t remember how far we drove that Sunday morning, but it was a ways. The church was small, even smaller than our Baptist church, meeting in what I thought was a house. No musical instruments. All the women in long dresses. And what set me back was the foot washing they did. We never returned to that outpost and somewhere down the line, my mother returned to the Baptist church where her name still remains on the charter.
A few years ago the Baptist church celebrated its sixtieth anniversary and I was invited to attend. My mother, gone, as were the other charter members, would have been pleased that I attended and shared that my daughter, raised in another Baptist church, is now a minister. That’s what going to church each Sunday can lead to. Even if it’s a small Baptist church.