I am rarely late. Most people I know will attest to that. In fact, most of the time, I am early for whatever event, meeting, appointment or movie I plan to attend. For whatever inner drive causes me to be punctual, I like to think the habit is a by-product of my religious upbringing or my mother. She was late to everything.
We attended a small United Church of Christ on Green River Road in Evansville and most of the people who attended the church lived close by in the neighborhoods bordering the church. We lived miles away or so it seemed that far to me as a child. We went to Sunday school, Bible school, Wednesday night church potluck dinners and a variety of other church activities. Church was part of the social fabric of our lives and upbringing. And on Sunday morning, we were always late to church.
The challenge of getting four children ready and out the door for anything can’t be much different from today.”Where are my shoes?” Don’t forget your money! Let’s go, let’s go, we’re going to be late,” were common themes in our house on those chaotic, rushed Sunday mornings. And no matter how hard Mother and Daddy tried, we always ceremoniously walked into church while the choir was singing the introductory hymn. My parents led the way, and the four of us trailed behind, with my sister and me hanging onto the smaller hands of the youngest two. We walked straight to the back of the church where seats were still available in the crying room, where young mothers with their babies and younger children watched the church proceedings through a large glass window separating them and the accompanying noise of unhappy babies and toddlers from the rest of the congregation.
In the crying room, there were no nicely polished wooden pews. We sat on folding metal chairs and listened to the scratchy voices of the minister, the choir and the deacons through a speaker positioned just above the glass window. The mix of ambient noise between the two spaces included the cries and whimpers of babies and children from inside the room, and the snoring old men out in the treasured sanctuary.
The crying room wasn’t much fun. There were no pencils or cards for drawing, and there was no opportunity to slide along the slick pews or to lie down if enough room was available. Drawing, sliding and napping were favorite distractions during the hour-long monologue from the pulpit, for which we had little to no understanding. And the singing, in that small room with babies crying and mothers shushing-unbearable. Nevertheless, because we were always late, that’s where we spent many Sunday mornings.
Nevertheless, we still were to participate in the passing of the collection plate-the church certainly wasn’t going to ignore the potential contributions in that room-and communion. Sinners all of us I am certain!
Men in dark suits entered the room for just those two occasions. First they brought the velvet lined silver bowls to collect the money and envelopes, and next they arrived with the round wooden trays which had small openings to carry the small glass vials filled with unsweetened grape juice. Lastly, they brought another silver tray filled with the communion companion, the white wafer that was supposed to taste represent bread but instead tasted like paper.
As we marched into the back of the church on those Sunday mornings, I was always embarrassed by our tardiness. I sensed that the whole of the congregation stared at us and talked about how the Stranges were always late to church. Little did I know or understand at the time that more than likely, every family, young and old, looked at my parents and remarked on the fact that they faithfully and successfully managed to get four children to church, regardless of the time. The fact that my parents wanted us to learn the value of faith, kindness and generosity was less about where we sat, and more about what we learned when we were there. I guess that made up for our tardiness.
I don’t attend church on a regular basis but am moved on occasion, for one reason or another, to attend a service. It can be at a Methodist church or a Catholic church-I am not particular about the denomination. I am more interested in the experience and often merely looking for the solace and comfort that being in a church can bring. When I do go, I am always on time, but I head towards the back of the church to sit in one of the last rows. I like it back there. It feels right to be there sitting quietly in a nicely polished wooden pew with a new mother and her sleeping baby.