Endure Him Forever

For the first eight years of my life I was a Presbyterian. People (including myself) repeatedly quote that part of the Shorter Presbyterian (Westminister) Catechism where it asks "What is mans's chief end?" The specified answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Well my earliest memories of worship suggest that members of my childhood church had misheard this and were operating under the assumption that man's (and woman's) chief end was to glorify God and endure him forever. Because there was little obvious enjoyment. But actually... why should I single out the Presbyterian church of my childhood... The lack of joy is a sad feature of worship in many churches or all denominations.

But all I can remember of the church of my childhood was that I didn't like it. I never understood a word of what was going on... including in the so called "Children's Addresses" delivered in sombre tones from the high pulpit... The songs were unsingable (if that is a word)... the prayers were never ending and the whole place was dark, foreboding and cold. And the minister terrified me... Dressed in black cassock and gown, with a frown fixed permanently in place, he radiated the feeling that children should be seen but not heard... Actually that's not true. He radiated the feeling that he would actually prefer children to be neither seen nor heard. That wasn't a problem, because there were very few of us, and as soon as it was decently possible we were usually banished upstairs to a cold church hall for children's church, which was infinitely better than what had gone before.

But one Sunday for some reason there was no children's church and we had to stay downstairs with the adults for the whole service. It was awful. I had never experienced a real sermon before. It was like standing on the seashore, watching a wave of words coming at me, relentlessly until it washed completely over my head, and I gave up even trying to listen.

What was much more interesting was that I was sitting at the end of the pew, which had a finely carved hole in it, just the right size for a six or seven year old boy to stick his head through. So I did that, only to find that four rows in front, the only other child in the place (the others must have heard there was no children's church that Sunday and sensibly stayed away) was doing the same as me. So we sat there, playing peek-a-boo and pulling faces at each other, having a great time, paying no heed to what was going on over our heads, until I felt my father's firm hand on my collar and my head was yanked back through the hole in the pew-end, banging it on one of the pointer bits of the carving en route and causing me to let out an almighty yelp.

This echoed even louder around that big old barn of a sanctuary, because the minister had stopped speaking and was staring at me and my companion in crime... Quite a feat to stare at both of us despite us being in separate pews... but he managed it.

For a few moments the only sounds were the "tut-tuts" of people around us and my father's blood boiling. Unusually my Dad had brought me on his own that morning, with my Mum at home minding my younger brother... And I was mighty glad of that because if Mum had been there she would have had no qualms about taking me straight outside to give me a sore backside to go with a sore head. Apparently, I learned over dinner as my Dad told Mum what had happened, the minister had stopped mid-sermon and asked the parents of the two errant children who were distracting him to take them in hand.

It was the family friendly atmosphere of that church which made it whatit is today. Closed! It shut up shop about 20 years ago when the few dozen remaining members could no longer afford to pay the bills. The building was bought by another denomination, but I've never been back. Icertainly hope they have a different attitude to children.

"Let the children come to me, but only if they are quiet and don't play in the pews!"


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