It was a beautiful building. Built in the ’20s, it had a bell tower, dark wood accents, stained glass windows, and that smell that reminds you of childhood – dampness, furniture polish, and lemon scented cleaner.
The exterior was some sort of stone, light colored, with a tall steeple above the wooden double doors. The building was long and narrow, kinda like what any good church building should be. I remember the foyer was a small, dimly lit room with a bulletin board hanging on the wall to the left. Many mornings I would glance at it as we entered, wondering what new announcements I could see before we swiftly walked through the tiny space. The low ceiling gave way to grand arches that swept upwards, creating a vaulted ceiling that emphasized the slight downward slope of the main sanctuary. There may have been a balcony at the back of the room (I can’t quite remember) but there was definitely a stage at the front. Quite a few Christmas plays were performed there. I was scared of falling off the risers. One time I was a sheep. I think.
There were pews instead of chairs. Soft yellow lighting, probably original to the building, hung from the ceiling. I don’t remember what was on the walls. Maybe small, stained glass windows? As I write I realize that much of what I recall from that place is small. I was small. I guess I related to the things that were my size.
There was a basement but I don’t remember how we got there from inside the church. The alleyway behind the building had a direct access to it. One time my mom parked the car back there to pick us up. It was after play practice and I asked my sister why one of the boys (who we thought was oh-so-cute) always wore the same clothes. She said that was his costume for the play. I thought costumes were something fancy like a chicken or a cowboy or a princess. Not a green shirt and jeans.
The basement had one large room and a few smaller ones down a hallway. In the bigger room we would meet for kid’s church. The chairs were dark blue and hard plastic. One time I was sitting and waiting for the singing to start and I was watching an adult helper. He leaned in really close to me and told me one of his eyes was made of glass and asked if I could guess which one. It made me uncomfortable. Eventually, that same man accused my mom of being a harlot and a witch.
I felt safe there. I felt happy and loved and welcomed. I liked that building. It meant I would see my friends and sing songs and have a snack. Really, they are happy memories.
As I flip through the images in my mind, I notice there is a dark haze over each one of them. Like something has stained the original image. What was once vibrant and innocent is now faded and sinister. It is impossible for me to separate these simple moments from the dark journey my family endured.
We spent so many Sundays there. Mornings for church, evenings for worship services. My mom was outgoing and talkative and a hyper extravert. She would tell anyone about Jesus (and she still does). It was her first real church family. She gave her life to Jesus when she was pregnant with me. While working out at a local health club on the exercise bike, she read an article in Readers’ Digest that finished with the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ She read it once, then read it again, and finally decided, ‘Yeah, that sounds good!’ There was so much goodness in her life at that time – a young daughter, pregnant with her second, a new house, a loving husband with a steady job – that she needed someone to say thank you to. God seemed like the best fit.
I’m not sure what she did between that moment and the time she started attending this church. I was four or five, I think, when we first started going there. My dad was still not a Christian but having grown up Catholic there was no objection on his part. He surrendered his life to Jesus a few years later, just weeks before the church formally laid out their accusations against my mom.
It was a happy place, this church.