Church has always been a very big part of my life. I was raised in a Baptist church. In high school we changed churches, but it was Baptist as well. During college I explored other church options, but going to a Baptist college kept me close to that tradition.
Until my senior year of high school, I went with my family to Villa Heights Baptist Church. As a kid, the church was located in this ancient building in what had become a crumbling Roanoke neighborhood. I began my church experience as many kids do, with Sunday School and Children's Church. While Sunday School would remain a constant throughout my life, I quickly outgrew Children's Church.
By the age of four, the teachers in the Children's Church were asking my parents to do something else with me. Apparently I was a difficult child. I don't think I was to the point of sticking my tongue out or turning desks over, but I was asking the tough questions. You know, like, "Who was Cain's wife?" "What was Noah's last name?" "What are boils?" Things of that nature.
So Dad gave me a shot. It was time for me to see if I could handle going to Big Church. This was a huge thing. I would be sitting by myself at the age of four. Probably a mistake to let a kid that young to be left to his own devices during a church service. There's only so much scribbling on offertory envelopes that one can do. Why would a four-year-old be sitting alone in church? I'm glad you asked. Mom and Dad were both in the choir. Thus, every Sunday, they were sitting at the front of the church. So I sat in the third pew on the organ side. Remember, this is a very traditional Baptist church. This means that the first few rows in each section were empty.
So there I am, alone in the third pew, with not even a stranger to keep me in line. I'm minding my own business, not really paying attention because, I'm sorry, the sermon was boring. Suddenly I'm jerked out of my seat by my Dad. There he is in full choir regalia and yanks me into the little room behind the organist. "If you ever do anything like that again, you'll be in Children's Church until you're in college!"
What'd I do?
Okay, I'm not so innocent. I was lying down on the pew. With my arms up in the air. I was pretty much just being a kid who was left alone in church. I put the blame for this one on my parents. Look, just because I'm asking mature questions in Children's Church doesn't mean I'm mature enough to handle being alone in Big Church.
I spent the rest of that day miserable in Children's Church. I was angry at myself for disappointing my Dad. He had placed a lot of trust that day, I kind of shattered that. But what can you really expect from a four-year-old? Especially in a church where sneezing during the worship could be considered blasphemy.
The next week I was back in Big Church. But this time I was sitting in the balcony with my grandparents.
And yes, I realize this story is somewhat out of order. It just didn't occur to me to tell church stories, but that's ridiculous. I have so many church stories to share. And church has always played such a pivotal role in shaping the person I've become, for better or worse. So I figure there will be more later.