When Cliff announced his intentions to stay home on Sundays, he told me he would gladly take me to church and pick me up afterward; after staying home for a Sunday or two, I made a decision: While I had no problem with the church we'd been attending, I wanted to see what the Methodist Church was like. It's the only one of the five churches in Wellington I've never attended on a Sunday; there is one small store-front church I only attended with my daughter once, when she was a teenager; I doubt she remembers: But that one wasn't my cup of tea. I also wanted to visit the Baptist church in town: I had attended that one for several years, even sang some of my home-made songs there; and both my kids were baptized in their baptistry. I have good memories of those days. How could I possibly decide?
To help me with my decision, I decided to switch between the Baptist and Methodist Churches on alternate Sundays. The Methodist Church is sharing a pastor with the Odessa UMC church, so the remnant of folks left in the Wellington congregation gets him at 9 AM: He leads the service, then he and his wife drive the ten miles or so to Odessa to do his duty there; the Wellington group have their Sunday School after the pastor leaves for Odessa.
What I found out is that both these congregations are struggling for members. If either of them have twenty people in attendance, it's a good day. In the Methodist Church, 90% of the people in attendance are senior citizens, so you wonder just how much longer the church can go on. I will hand it to the new pastor: He is doing his best not to make the small group feel "left out" of things; he's going the extra mile to make sure people don't just feel like they are playing second fiddle.
I like the people I meet at the Baptist Church, and since the pastor still has some grown kids at home, there are younger faces in attendance there. I was shocked the first Sunday when I went in and saw not a single face I recognized from the 70's, although after attending a few times, I found out one of the men... a bearded guy... was someone I had known well in the old days; he just didn't look like he used to, what with the beard and 40 years of aging. Oh, and he has a different wife... I would definitely have recognized him, had his first wife been beside him; she passed away some time ago.
I gazed around at the handful of people, and I must have looked confused: the preacher's wife introduced herself, surveyed the few folks in the pews with me, and said, "Well, this is about it."
Someone told me there had been a split in the congregation due to some disagreement, which sort of explained the small crowd.
Most people these days aren't church attenders. Many of them, like Cliff, say church bores them. I know there are also a lot of folks who just don't accept the concept of God, or Jesus. They prefer science. That's their belief, and you may as well accept the fact they aren't going to change in that opinion. (I don't feel science and Christianity are that far apart, but I digress). Everyone who isn't retired works Monday through Friday and have only the weekend to get things done. Somewhere in the last few years, after sporadic church attendance on my part throughout much of my life, I felt the need to go to church. I missed the hymns I grew up with, and I needed the feeling that Sunday was a "special" day with a purpose. I guess this goes to prove the fact that if you "train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Yes, something about growing older made me want to be in church, and it wasn't because I was scared of dying. Cliff has always said the reason I like to go to church is that I was raised that way... and he wasn't.
After going to different churches on alternating weeks for a month, it occurred to me that there was no reason I couldn't go to both, every Sunday. I liked each one, and it's only five blocks from one to the other. I leave the Methodist Church at 10, walk to the Baptist Church, sit for a few minutes in a back pew till they get done with Sunday School, and there I am at another church service. Here's a surprising fact: I've found out I enjoy going to church more without Cliff beside me! (Does that surprise you, Cliff?) I don't even know why, and I sort of feel guilty about it, but I'm more "myself" without him along. I visit with people freely, and actually feel more comfortable in my skin. Maybe it's good for me to talk to people on my own, once a week.
I'm only one person, but I'm one more person sitting in the empty pew, making the group one person bigger.
Change is hard, and it hurts me to see the traditions of the past fading: I hate seeing the empty pews, and the churches that have closed down in other small towns. As for me, I feel comforted that there is still a place or two in this country where I can walk in as a stranger, alone, and have people who are happy to see me and greet me warmly. That fact alone makes me want to make use of such freedom! Oh, and now I get to sing twice as many of the hymns I love each Sunday. Besides, I feel downright ecumenical. That's a long shot from how my religious training started out, where "the only folks going to heaven are me and thee, and I'm not too sure abut thee."
Don't think I'm bad-mouthing the religious training of my childhood, though. I wouldn't trade the things I learned with anybody. I still remember many of my memory verses from that time.
So there you have it. Just another surprise for me in my golden years, another chapter in a wonderful life that I would not trade with anybody.