It was a cold, dark, starry night and I remember it clearly. I was a little girl, being carried out of church, sleepy-eyed, draped over a shoulder and being taken home ready for bed. It was our annual ‘convention’ at church, which meant services every night for a week, with guest speakers and excited, floor-thumping, tambourine-led worship. The floor would shake as people jumped up and down, dancing, singing, loving every minute.
Us kids would play ‘revival’ at the back of church, by arranging a bunch of children to stand in a line. We took it in turns to either be a ‘catcher’ or the ‘preacher’ who moved methodically down the line, pushing the other kids over into the arms of the catchers. We had Picture Bibles (to read during the sermon) and plastic instruments to jump up and down with during worship.
There were often extended times of prayer at the end of the service and if I got tired, I’d crawl under a chair and using my dad’s Bible as a pillow, would drift off to sleep, dreaming of tongues of fire descending just like in Acts chapter 2.
It sounds like fun kids’ games now, but actually, I’m incredibly grateful for a legacy of church. Some of my happiest, safest memories as a child are of standing on a chair at the front of church singing, ‘Because He lives’ or the excitement of eating Blue Riband biscuits for Sunday tea (special biscuits because it was a special day) before heading out to the evening service.
Our home growing up, was a safe place, filled with church people, visiting speakers and a common understanding that there were things we did, and there were things we did not do. We didn’t watch TV on Sundays or go to the shops. The men always wore ties to church, and the ladies nearly always wore hats (no makeup or extra jewelry allowed either).
The rules were there to keep us safe, to keep us ‘in the world, but not of it’, as we were often told. But it wasn’t rules for rules’ sake – I enjoyed being different and knowing that my life was centered around a bigger story. It brought privileges that my school friends didn’t have – I didn’t have a curfew (for example) because my parents always knew where I was and that I’d be delivered safely home by one of the church parents. All the old people in church were known as ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’; like a huge extended network of many grandparents. It was a good, safe place to grow up.
I’ve been thinking about it this weekend, because yesterday we threw a surprise birthday party for my mum and I caught up with friends from many different walks of church life. In the room yesterday were people who’d known our family for decades, who remembered the revival meetings and the days of hats and bans on ‘worldly’ dancing. There was a lot of love in the room and a lot of shared history.
Later, during family post-party discussions, we realised just how thankful we were for having grown up in church. Many of our friends grew up under the same traditions, but later thought it wasn’t for them and walked away. It wasn’t always easy for my brother and I too – we both ran off and had our rebellions, but we eventually found our way home.
I’m feeling thankful today for a family and church legacy of love which was given to us as children and which we hope to pass on to others.