Even a fortress falls to time


The door to the old, yellow-brick church squeaked when I slowly pushed it open, then squeaked again as it shut out the cold, April morning, and I felt the eyes peering at me as I slipped into the back pew. An elderly usher pushed a black-and-white, often copied bulletin toward me, beaming his approval of my presence. I glanced inside; type-written, block words stared back at me. The congregation – 60 strong perhaps? – was facing straight ahead again; a portly, middle-aged (but heading toward seniority) reverend was listing announcements and prayer requests.

I’d passed the church weeks ago, walking through town on one of the first sunny days after we moved here. The church stands on a corner, a front, fortress-style turret its defining feature. Broad steps lead to the front door, and stained-glass windows look over an aging sidewalk.

But I’d never made it inside, until that cloudy day. A huge stained-glass mosaic of Christ fills one wall; seats fan out before a raised podium, sloping up as they near the door. The church has been around a while; so, apparently, has the congregation.

Of the worshipers before me, nearly all were seniors; most were pushing 70 or 80. One or two families filled a pew; a barefoot, teenage girl took two squirming toddlers out just minutes into the service, and I saw a couple adults who looked to be in their 40s. Mostly, they sat with neatly permed hair, men in suits and women in skirts and suit jackets or sweaters with brooches pinned near their hearts. I felt underdressed in my jeans and brown heels and pony-tail; more honestly, though, as the only adult under 40 in the room, I would have felt out of place regardless.

No one looked back to wonder what I was doing there, like I’ve experienced at other small congregations. They sang in soft, barely-above-a-whisper tones, first accompanied by a woman’s voice coming from a boom box on the alter rail, then by an organ. The presiding elder – a slightly harried looking woman in purple somehow related to the barefoot teen and squirming babies – presided over communion before the preacher took to the pulpit.

And then we were singing again, and heading into the fellowship hall for dinner. Then they lined up to great me. “Don’t you run off before I’ve said hello,” one sweet woman told me, taking my hand in her frail one. Her pearl and gold brooch stood out in classic relief from a pale-pink sweater. “There’s lots of food, you come on back.”

I wanted to, but didn’t have the heart. I’m looking for friends, and for a place where I can learn more than jokes worthy of those interminable email forwards (did you know there’s an Easy Street in Hawaii that takes you straight to a Dead End? Classic.). They were eager to see me and make me feel welcome – and they did – but it felt wrong to eat their food and learn their names and give them hope that I’d join them for good when I knew that I wasn’t coming back. So I shook the hand of the lady in pink, thanked her for her offer, then slipped out the side door and into the cold.

And I wondered how long until the door that closed behind me, closed for good.

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