Executive Director, GenOn Ministries
A small, Methodist church where my grandmother was a member was my first Christian community experience, if you don’t count my other grandmother’s small, Episcopal church where I was christened. I have little to no memory of it, but I do have a picture of what I assume is my Sunday school class, with all the children sitting on cardboard bricks and being taught by a man with a buzz cut, circa 1965. I was about three or four years old, and my eyes are focused squarely on the teacher.
A stronger memory is from Vacation Bible School that I attended with a best friend in elementary school. I remember our gatherings in the little sanctuary, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” each morning when a banner was carried up the center aisle, and walking downstairs to our classroom. One day that week, the teacher led us in prayer after our lesson, and she invited us to consider “asking Jesus into your heart.” Without really understanding what that meant, yet knowing it was something important, and believing that it felt right, I did it. And those few of us who did, stayed in from the playground to talk with the teacher about it. I have no memory about that conversation or anything else about the week.
Then there was the small (in membership and building size) Presbyterian church near our house where my mom dropped me off for Sunday school through about sixth grade. I joined the choir. Not the children’s choir, but the all-church choir. I wore a robe and carried a song folder just like the adults. I remember the pastor, Rev. Manson. I remember that he lived in the house between the church and my elementary school. My second grade (and favorite) school teacher, Mrs. Noffsinger, attended that church, too.
Many believe that the 1940s was the time when age-segmented and age-segregated church took off. My experience growing up was, for the most part, in small churches where those of different generations knew each other. Even with separate Sunday school classes, there were lots of adults besides the teachers who knew me, and I them.
Here’s to small and mid-size churches with limited to no staff, bare budgets, no youth mission trips or children’s choir. Here’s to small and mid-size churches with clergy who juggle multiple rolls, lots of volunteers, and all-church choirs, mission projects, and retreats.
What’s helpful to remember no matter the size of the church?
Other articles from the May-June GenOn Connect