Carrol Vertrees: Real sin would be to lose our civility
Carrol Vertrees June 30, 2012 6:06PM
Updated: August 2, 2012 6:09AM
I am looking at a photo of the country church where I wowed the congregation one Sunday morning with my great oration in a kids’ program.
The church is gone, its hallowed site marked by a plaque. I can hear the sounds now, echoing through the years. My recitation was a hit, although nobody ever suggested that I was a budding thespian, whatever that might have meant to me. Maybe nobody back home even knew that word.
I was 3 going on 4 when I delivered this stirring monologue: “Birdie with a Yellow Bill Hopped upon my Window Sill.”
In that far off past, kids were part of the cultural-religious nature of rural churches. Sadly, some mainline churches now are hurting and many may be singing: “Where Have All the Children Gone?”
Of course, life was simpler, not easier, when I did my recitation — Cal Coolidge was president. When he came home from church one Sunday, his wife, who did not go, asked what the sermon was about. “Sin,” said Cal. She asked what the pastor said about it, and the answer was, “He’s agin it.”
Almost every family within a country mile or more came to our church, not always for the sermon, because we shared our sermonizer with two other congregations. As a group, I think the grownups were agin sin, and that brought a trickle-down effect upon the kids, including me.
The definition of sin varied, but some of us kids figured it included smoking, drinking, hanging out in a pool hall, lying to our parents.
But it is more than the religious emphasis that locks me into the country church phase of my life. The fellowship fit the old hymn: “Blest Be the Tie that binds.” Neighbors knew and cared about one another.
Older men sat on one side of the little sanctuary and their wives occupied the other side. The little middle section was for younger folks, their kids and assorted strangers.
The farmer fellows all had bands of white skin on their brows, areas covered by their straw hats. Women dressed simply — no fancy frocks. Some wore nice hats. Many of them wielded fans with some dexterity — fans were a staple, usually gifts from area funeral homes. We kids wore whatever we could find — often we boys wore overalls.
My mom played the piano. The singing was energetic, but I remember some guys wandered from the tune. It did not matter.
The music phase of those worship services comes from another culture — we rarely try to sing hymns like “In the Sweet By and By” that seemed to lift the congregation, especially this line: “We shall meet on that beautiful shore.” Maybe our beliefs have changed from that simple, positive theology.
I wrote once, and it keeps coming back to me, that when the church windows were open in the summer, even the birds paused to listen. The singing in that little church was more than energetic — it was magnetic.
Our preachers sometimes shouted, and they often reminded us that sin carries a price. I reckon it is still true, about sin, I mean.
The cultural changes that have molded our country have altered our thinking about the importance of going to church. And the changes have altered what our churches believe is important.
Adults in my little church and their neighbors often disagreed on political, even biblical stuff, but they never lost their belief that civility is a treasure. In my simple lexicon, I believe that the eroding of civility, in or outside our churches, is a sin, and as Cal Coolidge might say: “I’m agin it.”