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The Old Church

A visit to the church of his youth reminds Rick Hamlin that it takes a congregation to raise a child right.

An old wooden church sanctuary
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With Presidents’ Weekend and an extra day of vacation I made a trip back home to see the family, and on Sunday I went with Mom and Dad to the old church, the place where I grew up.

I hadn’t been there in a while but it looks just the same, huge wooden beams arching over the sanctuary like the hull of a ship. As always with Mom and Dad we went right up to the front pew—Dad has never been shy about worship even if he sings all the hymns on about three notes. Sitting there, I was whisked back. I could remember squirming in that choir loft, passing notes during the sermon. I could recall a prayer I led on Youth Sunday that started out “Hi, God.” I could remember late nights in the church basement with the youth group when we sat on pillows in candlelit seriousness and tried to solve the problems of the world.

Because we were in the front row I couldn’t crane my neck and look back but I could picture a host of Sunday school teachers and mission trip chaperones and choir parents and Christmas pageant directors. I realized that as much as Mom and Dad raised me, I was raised by this place.

When we were kids, full of good ideas and a few wrong-headed notions, there was a community looking out for us, pushing us along, listening to us, praying for us and standing on the sidelines ready to pull us from danger’s way. It takes a village to raise a child? It can take a church too.

At the end of the service I finally turned around and a familiar face—albeit older but so am I—greeted me. I could remember her playing the piano at a million gatherings. “It’s you,” she said, grabbing my hand. “We were praying for you last year,” she said, acknowledging a little health crisis I went through.

“Thanks,” I said, touched to think she was still at it. That habit we have in churches of supporting each other in good times and bad. The old place was still at it.

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