Hello everyone! First, check out the updated prayer requests page for July/August!
Second, school has started and I get the privilege of teaching Middle School English again!
We are starting the year by writing “Phase Autobiographies,” which are basically autobiographical short stories or essays. The kids needed an example, so I figured I would write one and share it with them (and you!). So, without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure, “The Pew.”
I sat on the hard-backed pew, my six-year-old legs dangling off the edge not yet long enough to touch the ground. For the fifth day in a row, we sat and listened to the tall man give the closing sermon for Vacation Bible School. For the fifth day we, a gaggle of five- to twelve-year-olds, sat and listened to the tall man shout and warn us about the horrible, burning sulfur located in the deep pits of Hell. And this fiery torture wasn’t just reserved for murderers and evil people. It was for us. We were the evil people. We, who had never given much thought to our disobedience (other than the spankings we received for it) were being enlightened that we, in fact, were to receive this condemnation for our lies, bad attitudes, and the other crimes we were sure to have committed in our youthful reverie. This revelation seemed to lie in stark contrast to the “Jesus loves me this I know…” we would sing together in the mornings, but my curly-haired, six-year-old self wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate this dichotomy.
So there, for the fifth day, I sat listening to the tall man, one thought filling my head: I don’t want to go to Hell. Luckily for me, the end of the sermon always held the same, simple solution – if you don’t want to go to Hell, remain seated in the auditorium while your class leaves. That’s it. Stay behind. I’m sure there was also something mentioned about praying with someone and then getting baptized or something, but my mind was only fixated on the most frightful concept known to human kind – BE DIFFERENT. And as an added bonus feature of fright, we were also not told what would happen if we stayed. I don’t know how many six year olds you’ve interacted with, but a sure-fire way to induce a panic attack from one is to deviate from the established pattern without warning them for a month in advance what is going to happen-
“Ok, Tommy. We’re going to go to Pizza Hut.”
“But today we go to Grandmother’s.”
“Well, honey she’s sick, so we’re going to have dinner at Pizza Hut.”
“But today we go to Grandmother’s.”
“I know honey, but…”
*insert screaming crying meltdown here*
So, the tall man presented the dilemma before me as plain as day: go to Hell or die in the unknown.
For the first four days of Vacation Bible School my desire for self-preservation outweighed my desire to escape the clutches of the fiery depths. “I’ll decide tomorrow,” I thought to myself. But on the fifth day, I had a new problem: this was the last day of VBS. My last chance to overcome my fear of deviation from the normal, scheduled events in order to escape the fate my sin nature sealed me into the moment I took my first breath. My six-year old soul was teetering on a tall precipice that day.
The tall man shouted just as he had done for the four days previous. Then, as I knew he would, he invited those who wanted to be saved from eternal damnation to remain seated and journey forth into an unknown process involving who knows what. Would I go home again? Would I ever see my family? What does a person have to do in order to escape the clutches of Hell? Before I knew what was happening, my class stood up to leave the auditorium.
The time had come.
I clutched the edge of the pew, fear coursing through my body as a voice not my own rang in my head telling me, “This is too important. Stay in the pew. Please. Stay.” I gripped the pew even tighter and looked to my right. The boy who had been sitting next to me was now at the end of the row, following the rest of the class out.
“Are you coming?” He asked.
Now was the moment. One last chance to escape. The voice and my fear battled in my mind.
“No,” I said.
He shrugged and followed the rest of the class out. I turned away from him and stared at the hymnal on the back of the pew. After a few minutes, the noise of children leaving ceased, and the room was silent. I looked up from the hymnal and saw a girl younger than me in the first row of pews. She must have overcome the fear, too. The tall man was quietly talking to her and another adult began walking toward me.
“Well,” I thought, still gripping the edge of the pew, “I wonder what happens now…”
This VBS happened almost 25 years ago. The details are a little foggy 🙂 While I do remember being scared of going to Hell, the preacher in reality probably just said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, when you die you’ll go to Hell.” As a six year old, I probably took this very heavily and it left me with a perception of how things were presented, when in actuality, he probably just raised his voice in excitement (you know how preachers do) and I took it as shouting.
When events happen, we don’t necessarily remember what happened, but rather our perception of what happened. Two of my seventh graders are writing about the same event that happened to them in kindergarten and I expect two very different essays, as they have already talked with each other about remembering it differently.
All this is to say, don’t take this as another story of how church can damage a person. I wasn’t damaged. On the contrary, this was my first interaction with the Holy Spirit as He prompted me to stay in my seat and I see it as one of the defining moments of my life. Do we need to be careful to not scare children into salvation? Yes. But at the end of the story, the adult was walking towards me to talk with me about what salvation meant and to make sure I understood the decision I was making.
Thanks for reading,