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.