BY JUDITH SUTHERLAND
Farm and Dairy columnist
Celebrating a birthday in the church of our childhood included a simple but memorable tradition. Sitting on a post near the altar was a little white church that looked like a perfect replica of the one in which we gathered.
On the Sunday closest to a child’s birthday, a march down the aisle was anticipated with excitement. That walk seemed a mile long, all alone, with coins in hand which matched the number of candles on the birthday cake, and as the coins dropped in to the steeple of the miniature church bank, it felt as though the whole world was watching and celebrating this achievement.
The congregation would sing a simple little song in praise and recognition as the birthday child basked in the moment, both sacred and celebratory.
I remember the thrill we each felt getting ready for church on those mornings, and one birthday in particular stands out to me.
My birthday fell very close to Easter Sunday, so we were dressed in our brand new pastel-colored dresses, shiny white shoes and Easter hats. I asked for five pennies for my birthday walk, and Dad smiled and said “You went past pennies this year,” as he handed me a shiny nickel that felt enormous in my hand.
While it may be true that a building cannot exude a personality, that little white church in the country felt welcoming and filled with love.
Standing in the vestibule to hang up our jackets before heading to Sunday School classes felt as though we had stepped out of the world’s work and worries, and it was there we learned amazing Bible stories, all wrapped up in God’s love for us.
This small congregation felt like family. I had not yet started school, but Sunday School taught me all about sitting still and listening, as well as sharing books and crayons and glue.
We sang little songs about Jesus that stay with me to this day. Some of the children I knew there became my school classmates, and the connection runs deep.
Just this past week, an obituary appeared of a woman whose daughters were in my early Sunday School class. Even though it had been years since we’d seen them, we all commented that it felt like we had lost someone in our extended family.
When I close my eyes and remember our Sunday mornings there, I can even recall where particular people chose to sit week after week, gravitating to the same pew as if it were their home base.
I remember the hearty welcoming hug of church elder Dwight Donelson and his sweet wife Hazel, who played the organ and seemed to always have a loving smile. It felt to me as if they were everyone’s grandparents, and we were lucky to know them.
It was in that country church that we gathered to celebrate marriages and baptisms, birth and death, the momentous touchpoints of a life.
It may have been a simple thing, but the birthday walk was a part of that, and a sweet tradition. The love shared in that congregation is a memory that lives on.