On Sunday evenings I usually like to tune in various religious sermons, to get the varying thoughts in views of others throughout the nation. On one particular such evening, I happened onto the big station that dominates the other waves out in Iowa and three sermons followed, one after the other.
The first preacher was one of those strict fundamentalists you know, the kind who say everyone but themselves is going to Hell. 'If any of you folks haven't been baptized exactly as I explain in my little booklet, about what the scripture demands and it all hinges on this one word in the Bible then two-hundred million souls in this
United States will burn forever in eternity Praise God!' I sat there wondering how a Christian minister could shout praises to God about two-hundred millions of his fellow beings suffering hell-fire forever, as if he was gloating over the fact that he, alone, would escape.
The next sermon was delivered by a very sincere evangelist, who made a lot of sense, didn't condemn his fellow-beings, but urged them to a better kind of life. This I thought was more in keeping with a Christian ministry.
The third sermon was delivered by a Christian businessman. He didn't pound any pulpit, he never mentioned hell-fire or fellow-damnation. But he did preach a loving faith in a mild and dignified manner. I felt I got more of the 'Love of God' out of this sermon than the other two put down and pressed together. This man didn't tell you that you 'had' to believe, but he did explain that it would be much better if you did. And, in so doing, he made one feel much more welcome into trying out the Christian faith.
When I was little, Dad and Mom used to make us go to Sunday School every Sunday morning, and, if they were lucky enough to catch us after Sunday School (before we sneaked out the church door), they always made it sound that it was best for our spiritual welfare, both here and the hereafter, if we stayed and listened to the church choir and the preacher's sermon. Then it was that 'us kids' knew that we were stuck for another hour or two of disciplined conduct within the sacred walls of the Lord's House.
Going to church wasn't as easy in those days (when we went EVERY SUNDAY) as it is today (when we DON'T GO EVERY SUNDAY). We had no automobile then, for Dad hadn't arrived at that august status in life where he felt he could afford one of the contraptions. Thus it meant hoofing it two miles to and from the church edifice. Eor me, living several blocks on the Indiana side of Union City, it meant walking over into the state of Ohio to worship God, as if God lived only in Ohio (and not Indiana). But my granddad, once being the preacher there, determined that I go there each and every Sunday whether God was there or not.
When winter came, it always meant everyone getting out and wading the snow drifts, to deliver leaflets announcing the arrival of the well-known evangelist and his song leader who was supposed to be some well-known figure in the musical world who had given up all worldly ambitions and glories for the Lord's service.
This meant also prayer meetings, and youth group gatherings, as if in spiritual preparation, or cleansing, for the forthcoming big evangelistic event a week or so hence.
We earned our right to go to church in those days. Many of the sermons were fine, and inspiring. Some of the 'church-drifters' who went from church to church, to stir up the meetin's, often put on exhibitions which I always felt interfered with what a church service was intended for. Their antics desecrated what I felt true religion meant. Ill never forget, when the little minister used to ask for 'testimonial meetings', some folks from other churchs would always come, and sometimes they'd get almost out of hand. I never forgot the old fellow who hobbled down the aisle on what appeared to be a peg-leg, shouting, 'Throw me a rope, Brother throw me a rope.' He was headin' straight for the preacher who tried to smile, then got red in the face and squirmed like he'd rather be out of the place.
And there were the times Mom and Dad took us a walk out into the country, at the edge of town, to stand outside the tent camp meetin's that came around once or twice each year.
We never got involved, or went inside. But some of the 'saints' would spot us 'sinners' standing outside the tent and, in warning voices, would shout, 'Come on in you lost sinners out there.' Then the song leader would suddenly 'get happy' and toss a song book clear across the tent, hitting another 'brother' on the head and shouting, 'Amen, brother so-and-so aren't we happy?' As if that wasn't enough, Dad would often sit out on our front steps with
Mom and 'us kids' to listen to 'Doctor' Carter preach against sin, and the colored people a-shoutin' and singin' down at the old darkey church several blocks away. If the summer wind was in the right direction, it was about as good as being right there, although sometimes, when the good 'doctor' would get to pounding and shouting, it'd send the creeps right up 'n down my spine.
There later came the time when I was appointed president of the church Christian Endeavor. I often would wind up playing the old piano for the singing, as well as leading the services. We were lucky to have five kids in attendance, more often two. Two would come one week, the next week they'd stay home, and two others would come. I guess they did it in shifts.
Later I began attending church in the Presbyterian Denomination on the Indiana side of the town. God had shifted quarters from Ohio to Indiana. My mother played the pipe organ there, and I thought it would be nice if I lent my august presence to give her moral support. She needed it she didn't get paid much for all her fine work. Then the pastor got me busy teaching the adult Sunday School class. We met in the church manse, the preacher's lovely wife and other ladies served hot coffee and donuts, while we discussed the weekly lesson. They must've liked the donuts and coffee. We became so crowded that we occupied all the first floor of the parsonage, until the Westing-house strike came and lasted so long that many of the leading families in the church left town for other places. Then I began teaching a high school age class. Several came at first, then this dwindled down to two, two coming one week, and staying home while another two came (no better than Christian endeavor). The preacher always set the example, walking across the church lawn from his manse and arriving about ten minutes late every Sunday morn. We kept at it though, faithful in the Lord's work, till one morning the Reverend said, 'Joe, I don't think these people are very Sunday-Schoolish. Let's just quit.' And we did.
But what often bugs me is, with me first seeking God over into Ohio, thence back into Indiana I am wondering if Brother Elmer Ritzman has found that God has also been living in Pennsylvania? Amen.