What You're Up Against

Lucy Maude Montgomery gives a touching description of her younger years in church. Church leaders recommending relocation to their congregations would do well to read these words at their most empathetic level.

It was never a handsome church inside or out. It was very large and our pew was the second from the top on the left-hand side. It was right by the window and we could look out over the slope of the long western hill and the blue pond down to the curving rim of the sandhills and the sweep of the blue gulf. William C's pew was just ahead of ours. Mollie and Tillie always sat there; the choir used to sit up in the gallery long ago but of late years they have sat in the cross seats in the corner just ahead of us. This was for preaching. For prayer-meeting the highwater mark was lower down, in the middle pews, around the stove and in the seats under the gallery. The gallery itself was seldom used of late years save when Commu-nion service filled even the big church to overflowing. Long ago it was always used and I always hankered to sit there - principally because I couldn't, no doubt - another example of forbidden fruit. Only when the annual Communion Sunday came was I allowed to go up there with the other girls and I considered it a great treat, especially if we were fortunate enough to get in the front seat. We could then look down over the whole congregation which always flowered out that day in full bloom of new hats and dresses. "Sacrament Sunday" then was, in that respect, what Easter is to the dwellers in cities and harassed dressmakers had worked overtime for weeks getting new frocks finished in readiness for it. So a front gallery seat was very convenient for we could take in all the new costumes and I fear we thought more about them than we did about the solemnity of the service and what it commemorated. It was always exceedingly long in those days for they adhered to the old custom of a double service with the Communion in between. How dreadfully tired we poor kiddies would get and how we envied the boys and irresponsible people who got up, and went home while the congregation sang, "Twas on that night when doomed to know". We dared not stir but we realized acutely that caste has its penalties. And then what a hush fell over the building while the bread and wine were being handed around, the elders tiptoeing reverentially from pew to pew. I used to believe that there was something peculiar about the bread - it could not be just ordinary, home-made bread, much as it looked like it. It was a real shock to me when I found out that it was and that the buxom wife of "Elder Jimmy" had made it! I could not understand either why the women always buried their faces in their white handkerchiefs when they had eaten it; but of course I supposed I would understand it all when I grew up. And how glad I was when it was all over and we got down and out under the blue sky once more, where we could drink of the wine of God's sunshine in his eternal communion that knows no restrictions or creeds.

But the old church is gone now, with all its memories and associations. They will put up a modern one which will be merely a combination of wood and plaster and will not be mellowed and hallowed by the memories that permeated and beautified that unbeautiful old church. Churches, like all else, have to be ripened and seasoned before the most perfect beauty becomes theirs.

One who grew up in church cannot help but relate to Montgomery's childhood memories. She articulates what many church members have trouble putting into words. Those who wish to lead their church to relocate should consider the depth of similar feelings in their fellow-members. These emotions are real and deep - and should be respected.

The questions that should come to the minds of those who wish not to relocate are less emotional and more theological; is a church, in fact, "hallowed by the memories"? Is the depth of our feeling reflective of spirituality or sentimentality? These questions should be faced squarely and honestly.

From The Selected Journals Of L. M. Montgomery (Volume 1: 1889-1910; Oxford University Press, edited by Mary Rubio & Eleizabeth Waterston). Cited by David Holwick in his sermon illustration database - http://www.holwick.com/database.html