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
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
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
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?