Chapter 3 – Our Church Life

April 6, 2009 - 979 views

We were Seventh-Day Baptists, we kept Saturday instead of Sunday. Sabbath began at sundown Friday evening and ended at sundown Sabbath evening. We had a calendar put out by the denomination that listed the hour of sunset for the full year.

Salem was rather the headquarters for Seventh Day Baptists in that area. The college was there and the largest church. There were several smaller congregations in the countryside round about. The people settled in communities for mutual fellowship and economic reasons. They were generally farmers, store-keepers, or teachers because they could not work for others and keep Sabbath.

The denomination has three colleges: Salem, in West Virginia; Alfred, in New York; and Milton, in Wisconsin. The seminary is also in Alfred, NY In later years Salem College has lost its Christian distinctive and has assumed the role of modern colleges. I do not know about the other two schools.

Friday was the day of preparation for the Sabbath. All of our clothes that would be worn the next day were made ready. The food that could be cooked ahead was also done. Mama was likely to bake two or three fruit pies and occasionally a cake. And was she ever a good baker!

We looked forward to home-baked beans, which were prepared on Friday, and usually some kind of meat.

On Friday night we went to Prayer Meeting. On Sabbath morning we went to Church at ten o’clock and Sabbath School at eleven. At three o’clock we went back to the church for Christian Endeavor for the boys and girls and young people. I must say they kept us busy on Sabbath!

My mother rarely went, for it was a long walk. I would guess that it was a mile from our house to the church and then the hill was always there to be climbed when we returned. “Shank’s horses” was our only means of transportation–in fact, my Dad never owned a car arid none of us children did until after we married.

I had a Sabbath School teacher, among many, that greatly :impressed me as a pre-teenager. She taught us the “Harmony of the Gospels” for about two years. I still think she had a wonderful idea. She bought each of us girls two sets of the Gospels, a scrap book, paste, and everything needed to make the harmony. Each Sabbath morning we would read a story from the life of Christ, name it, and then find the same story in the other gospels. We had each page of our scrapbook divided into four columns, one for each gospel, and we cut and pasted the stories in the book. At a glance you could tell which books told or didn’t tell any certain event.

I kept that book for many years and enjoyed reading it. I have marveled at the wisdom Mrs. Trainer used with her work and at the patience she must have had with us, as we talked and smeared paste. She never had any children her own and our noise and constant questions must have been difficult for her to adjust to. They were the wealthiest people in town, the only ones with a colored couple working for them. Her husband did not belong to the church and she seemed very lonely at times; so I guess we gave her something to do and think about. She invited me to spend a couple of weeks in her home one summer. She taught me how to dampen and press a cotton dress so it would look fresh again. While I was there, I was permitted to pick pansies each day and arrange them in a large centerpiece for the dining room table. That dish had a mirror base and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Even today, pansies are favorites of mine!

I was in Salem for a few days when my oldest son was a baby, and I went to visit Mrs. Trainer. She was no longer able to leave her home and she seemed so lonely and hungry for the love and affection that had been hers as she had the opportunity to work with children. I tried to express my thanks and gratitude to her for the help she had given me and I went away feeling so glad I had spent this hour with her.

As I look back now on those early years, I realize that all of the youth workers were women of middle age or older. I cannot recall any man who showed enough interest in the young people to spend any time with them. Mrs. Ogden, who had teenagers of her own, was our Christian Endeavor leader. She had charge of all of our social activities, also (which were very few).

Our Seventh Day Baptist Church had the only pipe organ in town. Later there were two others. It was a beautiful thing. The great golden pipes filled the front of the church, forming the background for the minister as he stood to minister. Its music swelled, filling the building and overflowing into the community every Sabbath morning. There was something very thrilling and moving about its sound that made one feel that God was very near. There were times when we youngsters would be permitted to stand and watch the organist as she practiced; and on rare occasions, we would sit at the console and even play a tune, stretching our legs to reach some of the foot pedals.

In the summer of 1913 or 1914, the churches of Salem, Baptist, Methodist, United Brethren, and Seventh Day Baptists, united for an evangelistic campaign. They built a tabernacle on the high school grounds and put sawdust on the ground and used benches and chairs for seating. There was a children’s service in the morning and the regular evening services.

At the children’s meetings there were Bible stories, illustrated sermons, and much singing. They taught us some choruses which we loved to sing. I remember this one especially. There was a very popular song of the day, “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” and that tune was used.

It’s a long way to seek my Jesus,
lt’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to find salvation,
But it’s the sweetest way I know.
So it’s good by to sin and sorrow,
Farewell dance and show.
It’s the “sawdust trail” for me and loves ones,
For my heart says, “Go.”

I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior during this meeting arid was baptized and joined the Seventh Day Baptist Church. Many children were saved during the meeting and the churches made special efforts to strengthen and encourage them. There were study periods, social gatherings, and organization of clubs for these young converts. These meetings were interdenominational. I remember attending gatherings at the Methodist and First Baptist churches, but I don’t recall that they ever met in our church.

I remember one sermon our pastor preached one Sabbath morning. He took his text from 1 Thess. 4:11 (a) “Study to be quiet and to do your won business …” He was a very soft spoken, gentle man and his words about learning to be quiet sank deep into my mind.

I am fully persuaded that the church plays a very important part in the life of a growing child. It is our responsibility to make these contacts between the child and the church as meaningful as possible. There is no way of knowing what particular words or events will be the most influential, so everything must be carefully planned to meet all the requirements of which we are aware. Even so, “the best laid plans of mice and men” will sometimes go astray.

The Seventh Day Baptist Church in Salem was built of red brick with a full daylight basement. That made the church high off the ground and meant that many steps had to be climbed to enter the vestibule. This vestibule was an important place; for those who were late arrivals must wait there for the inner doors to be opened. These doors were closed (and ushers stood against them) when the service started and then were opened at certain times to permit “stragglers” to enter. Many times I waited out there while the pastor “prayed around the world.” You could hear his prayer and you could guess about how long you would have to wait when you heard which country he was interceding for at that time. He had a daughter and son-in-law in China and he always prayed for them last in this pastoral prayer. When this was concluded the “waiters” could enter before the anthem was sung.

Every family had a certain place in the church where they sat Sabbath after Sabbath–especially the chief, or most important ones. Strange as it may seem, the coveted places were the front seats! Today one must go early to get a back seat, for they are the honored ones. (I haven’t been back in this Salem Seventh Day Baptist church for about forty years, but I am convinced it would be crowded in the back also.)