Thursday, October 31, 2013

Church Connections

Several years ago now, my husband, my daughter and I had the great privilege of visiting the church where I was baptized as an infant. It wasn’t for a Sunday service, but on a quiet Thursday morning. We were passing through the town in which I had lived for the first twelve years of my life.

This was a foreign country to my husband—a true suburb, originally a Levittown, now named Willingboro. My parents moved to this place, their first home soon after they were married and shortly before I was born. We lived there through the end of my sixth grade school year. My parents formed their deepest friendships in this place—through the church. Here the foundation of my family was built.

St. Paul United Methodist Church nurtured and formed all of us. As we stepped into the hallway by the office, the memories swept over me in waves of pictures frozen in time, images that I had nearly forgotten. Attending four year old pre-school in this place, one day I had gotten so sick that my mother had come to get me. On this hallway was the nursery where I helped to “watch” the babies including my younger brother during the services.

On the second floor was the choir room where Mrs. Deihl taught us to sing “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Here were all the Sunday school rooms for children. I spent a year in every one of them. Third grade was my favorite.  Mrs. Evelyn Carson was my teacher and I received my bible which I still have.  We memorized the 100th Psalm. I also still have the bookmark that we made to mark that verse.

As we walked to the sanctuary, we passed the fellowship hall. This room lived up to its name—always filled to the brim for wonderful social and spiritual occasions. Here I helped to “make hoagies” (that’s a sub to my southern-born husband). The Mother-Daughter Banquet was a yearly highlight and the programs were great entertainment--especially the one with a janitor in a drum and a streaking two year old. One year, my family participated in an intergenerational Sunday School class which met in the fellowship hall. In this room I first participated in Wesley’s covenant service on a New Year’s Eve.

As we passed the other educational wing, that mysteriously more grown-up hallway, I remembered the fight over the placement of a coke machine in that hallway and the agreement not to allow persons to purchase drinks on Sundays.

Then we reached the sanctuary, the most special place to me. Our family sat off to the right side near the front. If I wasn't sitting with my family, I sat in the front row to the left side with the children’s choir. The view from that pew was wonderful as I actually listened to the sermons that Rev. Smyth preached. I was so proud when I had finally learned the Apostles’ Creed by heart and the doxology as well. The Christmas eve services with the pageants are spectacular in my mind, but nothing compared to that last Christmas when I finally was allowed to stay up late enough to attend the candlelight service.

My parents had brought me to this sanctuary to be baptized as an infant and before we moved away, it was my deepest desire to be confirmed in this church. However, confirmation classes were for seventh graders, and I was only in sixth. I had a conversation with the pastor about it. He explained that when I joined the church, I would join not just a congregation, but the United Methodist Church as well as the Church Universal. So that, when we moved and found a new church home and I would go through confirmation in that place, I would be joining this greater church which also included St. Paul UMC.

I have known the greater connection of the United Methodist Church. I have since been a member of two other congregations, an affiliate member in another, graduated from both a United Methodist College and a United Methodist Seminary.  I have served several congregations as ministerial intern and pastor as well as been a clergy member of three Annual Conferences. My sense of the connectional church is strong.

The connection that St. Paul UMC grew in my heart has never wavered. My Methodist roots are in that congregation as the place in which my faith was formed. I am grateful to have been baptized into the community of faith that is St Paul United Methodist Church. Through the eyes of a child, this was an incredible place—full of people who loved me and took time to teach me about the love of God in Christ. So many things that now I realize were unique to this congregation seemed simply like “the way the world was.” I am grateful that is was the way MY world was---full of people of all types who were committed to serving Christ. Remembering this congregation through my childhood’s eyes it looks more like the Kingdom of God than any other community of faith I have since known. Whether or not my memories are a child’s perception or close to reality, I am grateful with the heart of this adult for the body of Christ which is St. Paul’s UMC.

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