The church I was raised in celebrated its 125th anniversary Sunday. It’s only an hour away and it will always be home, yet I don’t get there to my hometown that often.
I made it a point to be there for the anniversary.
I daydreamed about the interior of the church, wondering if it would smell the same. Places from your childhood have distinctive scents that years, decades, later we still recall. I remembered GA meetings upstairs after Wednesday night spaghetti suppers in the fellowship hall.
I thought about how many times I heard my mother play “Just As I Am,” at the end of the church service on Sunday mornings.
Six summers of Vacation Bible School, each morning started with our singing Onward Christian Soldiers. The time I tried to play Jesus Loves Me for the entire 1st – 6th grade Sunday school classes and blew it – miserably. Camp at Lake Tiak-O'Khata. I thought about the funeral I went to when I was in college for a high school friend killed in a car wreck. I forget how many pews were packed solid with his fraternity brothers, all wearing navy blazers on one of the hottest days that summer.
The Lottie Moon Christmas tree that Mrs. Lea set up every year. I was baptized in that church.
It wasn’t a robin’s-egg-blue-sky day the way it should have been. Skies were overcast and it was cold for late March.
Walking up the front steps I loved how it all looked exactly the same – the white wrought iron railing, the pulls on the doors, the brick steps – it was all the same.
I think I’d been holding my breath until I got inside, hoping to see it as I remembered it. It looked the same, it smelled the same. What a blessed relief.
Everywhere I looked there were familiar faces. So many people – one of my dearest high school friend’s aunt, my high school algebra teacher (bless her heart), the mom of one of my favorite people anywhere, the music director who was there when I was growing up, people who’d moved off, people who stayed.
The preacher who baptized me when I was in the fourth grade, who did the Baccalaureate program one Sunday evening near the end of my senior year in high school, he spoke.
For all the welcome familiarity, I learned something I'd never heard before: the church bell came from the Confederate steamboat, the Natchez. Its crew set it on fire to keep Union troops from boarding. Before it sank, a Methodist preacher and several young men salvaged the bell that the church now has. How about that.
After the service, I went upstairs to look around.
This is the flooring in the Sunday school rooms where I was every Sunday. Truthfully, I'm not sure if I remember it or not. It was surprising how little of the rooms where Training Union, Acteens, Bible School, GAs, and Sunday school met was familiar.
But I'm thinking is the same water fountain.
I grew up in a yellow house katty-cornered across the street from there. That church always felt like home and it was so sweet that it still does.