As you know our Church is celebrating its 80th birthday this month. The Florence Church of the Brethren began in 1931, that was 5 years after my mother, Mary was born. I have asked her about her first memories of the church. She said that her first memory was walking to church barefoot with her neighbor girl, Doris Bullock. She also remembers watching children in the nursery during Sunday school just like she does now.I also have memories of this church when I was a child. But first I want to tell you of my first memory of when I knew that God existed. It was late at night when my mom was putting us to bed. Nora and I shared a bedroom. Mom always insisted that we say a prayer before we went to bed.
That prayer was always the same. I want you to try to imagine me as about 4 or 5 years old (about Talyn’s age). Please indulge me as I repeat that childhood prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
(...Scared look as I glance around...)
I pray the Lord my soul to take
Watch over Mommy and Daddy and Norie
And Georgie and Baby Frank
And keep them safe through the night
Then I would ask Mom to leave the night light on and then she would say:
Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
(again a look of fear around the room)
No wonder I needed a night light, talking about dying in my sleep and bed bugs that bite. This is quite traumatic for a child of only 4 or 5.
But all kidding aside, it was very important to my mother that we knew about God at a young age. The fact that I was praying at that age meant I knew there was a God, for that was who I was praying to. I knew I had to be good to go to heaven someday to be with Jesus. I also knew all about Jesus.
But Mom didn’t read the Bible to us, and I never saw my Dad read the Bible at all. So where did all of the Bible stories I knew come from?
That is where this church comes in to this picture. Of course, I can’t remember the first time I entered this very room. But I know my mother brought me to church when I was a baby. My memory of the church begins about the time I was 5 years old. I am going to ask you to use your imagination again. I want you to see with your eyes what I as a child saw when I entered this building.
We are going back in time to 1954. The Florence Church of the Brethren was just this building that is now the sanctuary. The entrance door was here in the front of the sanctuary as( Glen said last week). The door was where the stone cross is on the front of the church. The front of the church was where the rear of the church is now. And there were two rows of pews with an isle down the middle. That was always the same. When you entered the church you fist entered a hall way. On each side of the hallway there was a stairway that went upstairs. On each side of the stairway there was a class room downstairs. Upstairs there were two class rooms, one on each side and a landing in the middle that some times was used as a class room. Those four rooms were used for the children and youth. The adults always had their Sunday school class in the back pews in the sanctuary.
Oh yes, don’t forget our luxurious bathroom. The Men’s and Lady’s accommodations were at the rear of the Church (out side and two holers).
Then men and boys usually wore suits to worship on Sunday morning. If it was a hot day they might have worn a white shirt and tie and dress pants. The women and girls always wore dresses. It wasn’t acceptable for us to wear slacks to church. Some of the older women wore a covering on their heads. My Mother or Grandma Featherstone always brought us to Church, but my Dad or Grandfather never went to church. I never question why other men went to church with their families. I just knew that men in our family did not go to church.
There was another difference in Florence at that time. According to some records I was looking at recently, the attendance for Sunday school in the year 1954 for students under the age of 21was higher than those for adults. The total for those students under 21 was 41 and the adult were 15. It has reversed for us today. We are a Congregation of older adults. We have only a few young members with young children.
The memory I have of this building isn’t the most important memories that I have of this Church. The most important memories are of the people that were always here every Sunday to teach us children. My early memories of this church are Sunday school and the teachers (always women) who were always here for us with a story from the Bible, all the stories that kept us coming back each week to hear more. There was stories about Adam and Eve, and Noah, and Moses, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and David and Goliath. And of course, they taught us about Jesus, the most important lesson in our lives. Some times we wonder if the young ones remember these stories. They do, at least I did.
One of the most unusual things I remember is the attendances charts. They always had a Bible picture and stickers that related to that picture. The one I remember was of a shepherd tending his sheep. The stickers were sheep. These stickers were not like the peel off stickers we have today. You had to lick them. Like all kids we thought they tasted good. And we always wanted to be there every week because we wanted to get the most stickers on our charts.
These Sunday school teachers at this church nurtured the seeds that our Mother planted at home. They were always here. We could always trust them no matter what. Our mother always made sure we got to church and these teachers helped us at an early age to be interested in the Bible and they taught us about Jesus. The children we have here at Florence now will remember Sunday School and some of the stories, but most important of all they will remember Jesus. In Isaiah 54: 13 it says all your children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the prosperity of your children.
As a child I never really felt comfortable during worship service. Yes, it was important that we learned to set still during the message. Yes, we liked to listen to the songs. But the rest of the service was very hard for us to set through. Some times my mother would only bring us for Sunday school because it was hard for her to keep 4 children quiet during the worship service. There was no child care during worship service at that time.
In Luke 18: 16 Jesus said, “Let the children come unto me, and do not stop them. For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. ” This scripture reminds me of the time when my Mother and Grandmother were having a discussion at my Grandmothers house after church one Sunday. One of us children had been noisy in church or misbehaved in some way. We had been reprimanded by one of the members of the congregation and someone talked to our Mother about it. Mom was asking the advice of her mother. And Grandma said, “Remember Jesus said, “Let the Children come unto me.’’ After that time I began to feel comfortable in worship because Jesus would have wanted us there.
Another memory here at Florence was summer Bible School. We usually had the same teachers we had for Sunday school but there were usually other children from the area that would attend. As children we always looked forward to vacation Bible school because we were country kids. There wasn’t always a lot to do. This provided entertainment as well as learning. In later years we had Bible School at Ruby Reed’s pond.
When I was 8 years old my Grandmother, My Mother, my sister Nora, and my Aunt Aileen were going to be baptized. I wanted to be baptized, too. I didn’t want to be left behind. We had learned in Sunday School that it was important to be baptized if we wanted to go to Heaven. I told our pastor that I was old enough to decide for myself if I wanted to be baptized. And I guess I answered all of his questions to his satisfaction because the day the others were baptized I was baptized also. The baptism was performed by Pastor Glenn Rummel of the Florence Church of the Brethren on June 10, 1956 at Fish Lake.
Rev. Rummel was the first Pastor I remember. . I felt sad when Mr. Rummel left our Church (That what we called him, Mr. Rummel). We would never have called him by his first name like the children do with Nina. It would have been disrespectful. How things have changed.
Our next pastor was Rev. Frank Mulligan. It was during this time that our first addition was added on. The addition was finished in 1964. We then had inside plumbing and flush toilets. We also had nicer, larger class rooms and a foyer. At this time Dallie was 4 years old.
After Rev. Mulligan , our next pastor was Rev. Galen Barkdol and his wife Birdie. They were the most adorable older couple. At this time I was in High School and wasn’t attending on a regular basis. Dallie remembers that when she was in elementary Rev. Barkdol had children stories during worship and also junior church in the basement that was usually led by Diane Oxender.
The church bus sometimes picked Dallie up and other children whose parents did not attend church or who could not make it that Sunday. The Church bus actually was a large van that held about 8-10 children. Dave Reed, Ruby’s son, drove the church bus at that time. Dallie said she also remembers going skating and weekend gatherings with other Church of the Brethren youth in Indiana. She also remembers the youth camp-outs at Lindsly’s.
Before the Barkdols left Florence, Charlie and I were married and had begun our Family. Our next pastor was Dana Hartong. When I was an adult I wasn’t sure if I understood fully the commitment I had made as a child so I was baptized again September 1, 1974 by Rev Dana Hartong at Ruby Reeds Pond. Charlie was baptized on that day also. But that is another story for another time.
Other memories from Florence is the annual pancake supper held in the church basement and the annual Florence Township Mother and Daughter Banquet that was sometimes hosted by Florence Church of the Brethren and also held in the church basement. We also had an annual church campout weekend at Ruby’s pond.
I am so happy that we have children’s time during worship. And songs that are special for them. This is something they will remember and they will feel that worship is a place for them also. Who knows, one of them could be leading worship or singing or giving the message someday. With the encouragement they get now, they can be a welcomed addition to our congregation when they become adults.
The future of the little children is in our hands. They learn love, respect, and social skills from their parents. They learn to read and write and math from their teachers at school. It is our responsibility here at Florence to teach them about Jesus and the Bible. Some of these children will never hear Bible stories at home... I remember when I first started bringing Skylar to Church; she said who is this Jesus guy they are always talking about. Now you have heard her talk about Jesus during children’s time and she is learning more every Sunday.
Yes, things have changed a lot since the time I was that small child at the back of the church. Did I ever think at that time I would be up here on a Sunday morning during worship giving a message? No way. That was only for other people that were different than me. I know that what I learned in those early years of Sunday School set the foundation of my faith. The years that I spent here, as a youth and a young adult with children of my own, were years of learning and growth.
And these recent years when I returned to almost a new congregation have been very important also, especially The Journey Program and encouragement from Nina and support from all of you. But I will never stop learning and growing in Christ.