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Where Did All The Church Pews Go?

(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

To me, childhood was an exercise in survival. There seemed to be no chance to enjoy those early years.

I was alone much of the time, living in my own dream world, trying to figure a way out of the chaos of my life.

And I was angry — so very angry most of the time. I just wanted to escape.

And then I met Him.

Each day, I walked home from school alone. In autumn, I danced through the trees, catching falling leaves. In winter, I romped through the snow, smelling the aroma of wood-burning fireplaces in surrounding houses.

And in spring, I paused at every honeysuckle bush I passed to pluck a flower and suck the sweet nectar. On the walk home each day, I passed a Baptist church that seemed both intimidating and awesome in its grandeur. I had never actually been inside the church. For that matter, I’d never been inside any church that I could recall.

Churches in my small hometown in North Carolina were always open during the daytime hours. My first real visit to that Baptist Church was after school on the first Tuesday after I started second grade.

Introducing myself to God

It was a hot August day heavy with humidity which added to the unbearable southern heat that suffocated your pores.

On that particular day, I chanced creeping in the large wooden door to escape the oppressive mugginess. Anywhere was better than going to an empty home, especially since we had no air conditioning.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the shadows, but I saw no one in the expansive room with stained glass windows and a large wooden cross behind the platform. The coolness was a blast of bliss to my sweaty body. I wanted to stay there forever.

I looked for a place to squirrel away in the cool without being noticed by anyone who might happen to walk into the room. The only place that seemed private to this 7-year-old was underneath the long wooden benches that were placed in rows throughout the room. I would later come to know these as “pews.”

I quietly tiptoed to the back of the room and slid under a pew to lie face-up on the floor. From that very first moment, I felt I was not alone. In fact, it seemed perfectly natural to strike up a conversation with God. It was, after all, His house.

"Hi God, it’s me. I guess You know I’m here. Thanks for letting me visit so I can get cooled down. Boy, is it hot out there! I don’t really know You, but I’ve heard You’re really nice and that You love people. And my aunt told me that You love people just as they are. Well, God, I’m not much, but I’m happy to meet You. If You don’t mind, I’ll just lay here a while. If You have something to say to me, I’ll be listening."

Thus began a regular habit of stopping by God’s house. Each day, I peeped in through the door to see if anyone was in the room. If not, I slipped quietly in and laid down on the plush carpeted floor underneath a pew.

As I lay there, I whispered in conversation to God. He was always very real to me. He was my one true friend who never let me down. I don’t know why I felt that way. I suppose faith truly is a gift!

Somehow, I knew God was always waiting for me each day as I walked home. And somehow, lying there on the floor underneath that pew, I felt closer to Him.

Each time I visited, God and I had conversations. They weren’t “holy” conversations. I just told Him about my day, about my worries and fears. I excitedly gave my account of the home run in kickball at recess or my prowess in dodgeball.

It all seemed so normal to me. I felt His presence, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt He was listening.

And then, I would lie there in the quiet to see if He’d tell me anything. Sometimes, He did. I could perceive Him inside my head. I heard His laughter, felt His joy, and sensed His love for me. It was so very real.

The first real visit to God’s house

It took some courage, but I eventually asked my grandpa to take me to that Baptist Church one Sunday morning. It was a rather scary place with all the people in it, and it took a while to get used to. But we continued to go, and eventually, it felt like the family I never had.

So it was that I learned all about Jesus and God and selfless love. God was the father I never had. Sunday school was a balm of healing. The church body was a fragrance of acceptance.

Most churches don’t have pews anymore. And it makes me a little sad. It’s mostly comfortable padded chairs now. No place for a kid to hide.

However, in my adventure of faith I have learned to lie in the grass, float on the ocean, or stand on the mountain top and my conversations with God are just as poignant.

That’s prayer. Just a conversation. No fancy words. No memorization. Just talking with God. Just listening.

And He’s always there waiting for me. Anywhere. All the time.

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