Saturday, October 31, 2009

Memories of Childhood Church...

When I was about three years old, I began attending Sunday school. I remember very little about those early days, but I remember being a little older, attending first a sort of Junior Church in the basement of the Session House. Mr. Will Strong lead things and we all sang hymns like "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Trust and Obey." One morning stands out in my memory. Mr. Strong took his place at the podium and began to speak, when he started to make strange sounds and his body began to quiver. I was afraid of what was happening. Shortly after, Mr. Strong was led out of the room, into the kitchen behind the main room, and then Walter Preische came to the podium and explained that Mr. Strong had taken ill, and he took over. Later we learned that Mr. Strong had suffered a stroke.

There were classrooms in the basement area, and we were separated by age. For the life of me, I do not remember the names of my teachers, except for Prof. Hall, nor do I remember a single lesson! So much for my Sunday school experiences!

In the 1960's, the First Presbyterian Church of East Hampton was being renovated. The pipe organ, sadly, was removed, and a new, modern instrument was added. The old pipes that were visible at the front and center of the sanctuary were replaced by red, satin drapes with a large gold colored cross placed in front of them. There were many changes made to the building, including the taking down of two side steeples, and the replacement with one centered spire. I've always thought the church looked lovely after it's renewal, but I prefered the look of the old one.

John Drew Theater at Guild Hall became our meeting place while the church was being refurbished. It worked perfectly well, with the reverand Mr. Renton preaching in his Scottish brogue from the stage. There was a piano to which we sang the familiar hymns. Being of the age where I was easily distracted, a spent a lot of time during the service examining the look of the theater. The ceiling was domed, and painted in stripes, somewhat like a circus tent. Were the lights that hung supposed to look like balloons, or am I remembering that incorrectly? The place had a musty smell odor, and a slanted floor. There was a stage where in earlier days I had played the lead role in 'The Little Matchgirl', while Jeanne Dordleman flitted around in a blue bird costume. It was difficult for me to keep my mind on Rev. Renton.

That reminds me of another tale. My best friend, Marty, and I always sat together in church. After we'd moved back to the church for services, Marty and I would sit in the balcony when I wasn't singing in the Jr. Choir. Marty was always a cut-up, and she would say things to make me laugh. For some reason I was 'afraid' of old people...and she'd work on promoting that by pointing out some older lady and saying she looked like a witch. One Sunday morning, Marty wondered about jumping off the wall of the balcony, and swinging from chandelier to chandelier.
The thought made me giggle, almost uncontrollably, and Mr. Renton looked toward us and said, "Steady now, steady!" That meant...'calm down, girls.' Embarrassed, we did just that.

Those were days when I fear I learned little at church, and yet, somehow I managed to learn to love the Lord. Today I'm actively involved in living a life which I pray is pleasing to Him, despite my rather dubious beginnings! Marty, too, is actively involved in a ministry life. I think the Rev. Mr. Renton would be pleased to know this.


  1. Kathy, that memory of us was so cool. As you know my childhood moving about kind of curtailed a lot of childhood memories. My one redeeming pleasant memories of my youth will always be centered around East Hampton and my family and most especially my best friend Kathy :0) I always looked forwards to summer so we could pal around. And then of course the 10 to 20 page letters we wrote each other when I was "stuck" somewhere else. In my faith journey history, you play a major roll as you included me in your faith and getting to go to church with you. (as you know, my parents were not church goers) I know God used you to nurture (sp?) the seed God placed in my heart to be His property and to try and live my life for Him.
    Hey - who me a cut up and tease? Me thinks that part of me has not changed much except for me perfecting the behavior! Thank goodness I still look like I'm in my twenties instead of 60, since old people scare you. (Okay, I lie - more like in my thirties with the mentality of a wise teenager)
    Thanks for the memory - made my day. This is one of my favoite sayings and you fill it!
    "A friend knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you've forgotten the words"
    (Thank goodness you can sing well, cuz if I sing back your memories to you with my deep voice, you may decide you would perfer to forget the memories:0)
    Love ya and God Bless,

  2. Some thoughts: Thanks for the memory of Uncle Will. Living in his house here makes me think of him often now that we attend
    First Presbyterian where he was so active.

    When the church was renovated in the 1960s the organ pipes that were removed in the front were actually fake-not real ones. They had them on display recently along with other church antiquities from storage. The red drapes have been replaced with huge fake pipes to allow for better air flow. I remember going there with my grandmother when she practiced the organ, which was in the little side compartment. Now it sits up on the platform - she would have hated that!

    There are plans in the works now for an addition off the back of the church - 3 stories for SS classrooms, offices, and choir room. Just over 1000 sq ft on each floor. We need to raise money but we have all the permits in place.

    A complete renovation of the Session House was just completed and it is spectacular. One huge Congregational Hall upstairs that's beautiful and a new kitchen too. You must come see it next time you are town.

    Guild Hall has also recently been renovated and looks nice with the balloon chandelier and new seats, etc.

    There is still controversy about changing the church when they did, removing those steeples, but change is inevitable!

    Nice memories! Next time you're here come visit FPC - its an exciting place these days!

  3. Thanks for the updates, Barbara! I didn't know all of that...and I will be sure to visit when I'm back in EH.

    I remember Miss Louise Mulford as organist, sitting in the front of those pipes...with a mirror on the organ in front of her, so she could see the choir director, I think. Anyway...I guess it's been since 1974 since I've stepped foot into EH Pres. It's time for a look-see!