This part of my story is really the story of my father and mother before me. They were the ones the Lord gave me who made the impressions on my life so it has come out as it has.
When I was just a baby, I was in church with my mother holding me and caring for me as soon as she got me home from the hospital. That hospital was Rice’s Hospital—long since burned down, so I never actually got to see it myself.
It was interesting that my mother was never absent from church unless she was in the hospital having another baby. I don’t remember her ever being sick. Every three years she had another baby to care for. Things were different in those days, so her stay at the hospital was at least two weeks. She thought of it as a vacation. The first place she went was home, but the very next place was to church. She prided herself on never missing a Sunday, and she had pins to show for her faithfulness in attending Sunday School every Sunday for years and years in a row. I told you she was the superintendent of our Sunday School Primary Department, and she was our Christian Endeavor teacher, too. It was she who got me to playing the organ at Sunday School which was one of those little pump organs that had an old-fashioned sound I’ll never forget. Where was my older sister Violet when I was playing that organ? She was the pianist in our family. She was in the big room, the main sanctuary of the church, where the older folks were in their own Sunday School, playing the piano for them.
When I was old enough, my mother made me a Sunday School teacher. I had a class of primary children, and sat under her tutelage for several years. When we were in the primary department, we had a certain routine we went through every Sunday. We sang our songs; we listened to a missionary story; we listened to a Bible story my mother told using a large picture hanging from a wooden rack, freeing her hands to make gestures while telling the story. Of course, we had an offering at which time we all got into a circle, and we went around to the front of the room and put in our pennies. We went around three times, and each time, we dropped one of our three pennies into the basket. For the kids in our family those three pennies came out of the tithe box that my mother kept in her bedroom.
My father and mother tithed ten per cent of the money my father brought home. That was the first thing that came out of the money he brought on pay day. Then he gave my mother money for the household expenses she had charge of. If any of us needed to give to some special fund drive at school, it came from that tithe box, and when we started making money ourselves, we gave a part of our money, one-tenth, to the Lord. From the very beginning of our earning days, which was quite early because we got paid for just about everything we did around the house, we put our money in a little metal bank so that we could save it and not have it get lost.
We learned to tithe, and we also learned to save. I realize now that they were building into our lives the thing that was to make us prosper, because God had worked it out that if we gave Him back a tenth of what He had given to us, He would prosper us. We find that in Malachi 3:10. Surely, everything we have comes from God, so onetenth of that is not much to ask in return.
After our offering time, we went to our classes and had our own Sunday School lesson presented by a teacher, who eventually was either me or one of my sisters. Later on in the morning, we got together again as a group, and we learned a memory verse. We had memory verses to learn that began with the letters of the alphabet, so when we had memorized all 26 verses, we had earned a small New Testament of our very own. This was presented to us in a lovely program, and it was an honor to receive our New Testaments. We all worked hard to earn this New Testament, and then we got to use it as we studied our lessons each week. When Sunday School was almost over, we always sang a little song:
Our Sunday School is over
And we are going home.
We’re glad that you have come.
Then we went to the main sanctuary next door. The morning worship service was held there. We sat with our parents on long shiny slick wooden pews that extended across the middle of the room. On each side were similar pews, only shorter. A staircase at one side of the room led to a balcony where the overflow crowd went.
When I was in high school, our high school Sunday School class met up in the balcony while the older folks used the main sanctuary. The boys’ class, which my father taught, was held on the left side of the balcony while the girls’ class was on the right. There was another fairly large room downstairs behind the main sanctuary that had doors that could open out to the larger room in case we had a special program and there were too many for the main sanctuary to hold. This room was the Sunday School room for the college age people, and on Wednesday nights, this was our prayer meeting and Bible study room, just the right size for the crowd that came that night.
I told you about the Sunday School classes in the mornings. In the evening, we got together in one of the small rooms to the rear of the main platform of the church. There was a small room on either side of the baptistery which was immediately behind the platform where the preaching was done. The baptistery was filled with water when someone was to be baptized, and it was large enough and deep enough for the minister to stand in and immerse a person and bring him right back up so that, in Bible words, he could “walk in newness of life.” You can find that in Romans 6:4. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” One of those little rooms was for the men who might be preparing to be baptized, and the other was for the women. But at other times, we could use those rooms as classrooms. Each was just large enough to hold all the children that came, and my mother was the teacher.
She was so good. I’ll never forget how she could hold the attention of us all while telling us the stories of the Bible. She was a born teacher. There was one boy, however, who just couldn’t keep quiet, and one time she said to him, “Cliffy, if you can’t keep quiet, I’m going to sit on you so you will keep quiet.” She was not a ‘fat’ lady, but she was good and hefty, and I couldn’t imagine her doing that, until one night, Cliffy began to act up, and sure enough, true to her word, she made him sit down, and she sat right down on him, and I can’t remember him ever acting up like that again.
The staircase going up to the balcony was really a lot of fun. It was covered with a beautiful red carpet that was nice and soft, and we would start at the top and go bumping down the stairs to the bottom of it just for fun. The banister was fun, too, but that was a “no-no” to slide down! As we sat during the service, we could usually endure the song service and participate in that, but when it got down to the preaching, we got out our Sunday School papers and started circling words that impressed us. Or, we did other things to keep ourselves quiet during the service. Sometimes, when we were younger, I guess we even went to sleep. When we got a little older, we didn’t have to sit with our parents, so we sat on the left side of the church. We brought the Sunday funny papers with us, and we read those. Then if it was really boring, we even got up and left the church altogether.
In those days, there were what we called “street cars” that ran on tracks over certain routes in the city. You could purchase a streetcar pass which was good for a week’s passage on the streetcar at any time. It was good to take you anywhere in one particular zone. On Sundays, it was good for one adult and two children to travel on for free. Of course, you had to pay for a pass every week, and my father did that because in the early days he didn’t take the car to work. He went back and forth to work on the streetcar. My brother, Bob, nine years older than I, usually was with us, so he would take me and one of my sisters home on the streetcar from church. He was the adult, and my sister and I were the children. My mother gave her okay for this, but she always had me put on the potatoes when we got home so they would be almost done by the time she and the rest of the family got home. I sort of dreaded that because, more than once, I let the potatoes burn, and then I had to answer for that! My sister, Vi, said she never got to leave church like that.