In 1918, I went to a little country church. It really was little, seating about fifty people. The windows were papered with fancy paper and when the sunlight filtered through, it was a good imitation of the stained glass windows of renowned cathedrals.
The attendance seldom filled the church on Sundays, except during Easter and Christmas. Occasionally it got quite crowded when there was a wedding, the blessing of a new baby, and always, when there was a funeral. Funerals were always a well-attended affair. More people came to them than to weddings or baby blessings. Sadness, somehow, brings people closer together.
Mother had perfect attendance because she sang in the choir, with five other ladies. The minister's spouse played a lively piano and the hymns they sang are today mostly forgotten. There was "Rock of Ages", "Throw out the Lifeline", and, "He Walks with me", hymns you seldom hear today. I haven't heard them in more than 50 years. I miss those old time classics like I miss the candles on the Christmas tree. I can't get accustomed to the new hymns. I like the hymns my mother sang. Today, they are just memories, beautiful memories.
I remember, very well, that our church was cold during the winter months. We sat with our coats on. Sometimes we didn't remove our mittens. The large pot-bellied stove glowed red with heat, but kept only it self warm and sometimes, during prayer, you could hear the burning wood snap and crackle. The very sound helped keep you warm.
Our church didn't have benches, we had chairs. (I told you, it was a little church.) Each member had donated a chair to the church. Some more comfortable than others. Like fingerprints, no two were the same. It reminded me of a second hand furniture store. If you wanted a more comfortable chair, bring one from home and leave it there, God would take good care of it. Later, when the church had saved enough money, we bought the pews.
There is a story here I would like to share with you about a special chair. In every house there was a Bible, and there was also another book--a book of great importance on every farm, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. An elderly church member, Mrs. Emily Davis, well into her eighties, always wanted a certain rocking chair shown in the Sears -Roebuck catalog. She was unable to buy it for herself. My pop sent to Sears and had it delivered to the church. Mother tied a big bow on it, and Emily had her rocking chair.
During the service she would rock away in perfect bliss, but I noticed, during prayer, she would not rock. It was her way of expressing her respect to the God of her prayer. It is little things like this, that sets people apart from the crowd. That is why, perhaps, so many years later, I still remember Emily and her rocking chair that would not rock during prayer.
We would sit as close to the stove as we could. Our faces kept warm, but out backs were cold. You didn't go to church to be comfortable, you went for the love, the companionship and the joy of sharing God with your neighbors.
As the Christmas season grew near, attendance gradually began to build. Something special was going to take place. It was going to be different. It would not be held in church---it would be held in a barn!
That special day arrived and what a day it turned out to be. We sat on boxes and kegs. Some people brought their own chairs. We were very practical people and always rose to the occasion.
The horses were in their stalls, a couple of cows were munching hay,
and hot coffee and chocolate flowed freely. There were fresh baked cinnamon
rolls and cookies. And, yes, there was the odor of a barn. As farm people,
we had no trouble coping with that. Elder Haynes brought it to our attention
that it didn't bother Mary and Joseph and there is no record that Jesus
complained. Elder Haynes wanted us to live the experience of the humble birth of Jesus Christ. He reminded us that no one served Mary and Joseph hot coffee and chocolate and certainly no fresh baked cinnamon buns. He had created an atmosphere for his sermon on the birth of our Savior. He was a perfectionist. He gave us presence, even to the aroma.
Elder Haynes told the story of the blessed birth. In a manger was a large doll representing Jesus. When telling of the angels proclaiming to the shepherds in the field, tending their sheep, that the Savior was born, we were all startled when a sheep in the pen bleated, as though on cue, to sanctify the story. I know if I had looked up, I would have seen the angels, but, I was too scared.
Three wise men came riding in on mules, with colorful blankets slung over their shoulders and fancy paper hats, bearing gifts.
One of the neighbors dressed as the Virgin Mary and her husband, as Joseph, played their parts. Taking the doll from the manger they showed the Jesus baby to all of us. The choir sang the hymn, " Asleep in the Manger".
What a sermon that was! The Elder spoke with such compassion. His words flowed past your ears and into your heart. His story came alive and you felt the presence of God as you never felt it before. You sat in awe, and you knew that God, too, was sitting there with you. It was beautiful and inspiring in its simplicity. Strangely, no one complained of being cold, and outside it was snowing.
For a long time after that, every time I rode past that barn on the
way to school, I felt that God must live there. It was a very special building
to me for a long time. Even today, so many, many years later, when I drive
past a country barn, I think back to that Christmas, and I get the feeling,
I was there when Christ was born.
Christmas Carols / Christmas Stories
Advent Calendar2002 / 'Twas the night before Christmas