Church Folk

This chapel is a lot like that one. Small. Only, this one used to be crowded on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I used to sit with a girl in the third pew from the back.

I’m not a religious man, particularly, but I have a thing for churches. Old ones, like this one. Small-built. Modest steeples. Concrete steps.

I was married in this room. I haven’t been here in years.

The sanctuary is dark. They don’t use it for regular services anymore, it often sits vacant.

It’s hard to be here and not think about Cokesbury Hymnals, old ladies with beehive hairdos, or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on Tuesday nights in a Boy-Scout uniform.

Or church retreats.

Church-folk love retreats. Like father-son weekends on the lake. Once, I accompanied Billy and his daddy on such a retreat—since I had no father.

There was a football game. Fathers against sons. I played corner while Billy sat on the sidelines.

Before the game, I overheard Billy’s father whisper to him, “You’re sitting out this game, son. Sean don’t have no daddy, it’s his turn.”

I never felt more pitiful.

That night, I left my bunk to make water in the woods. I saw a few kids and fathers, sitting on picnic tables. They saw me.

Men stomped out cigarettes. Everyone headed for their cabins.

Alone again. So, I talked to Daddy in the woods—I did that a lot back then. I had this idea he was floating in the sky, just like in the song: “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”

I love that song.

As a young man, Miss Lydia Devenson paid me fifty dollars to sing that very hymn for her husband’s funeral. It was the first time I’d ever performed such a role. And it didn’t seem right—like I said, I’m not a religious man.

Before the ceremony, my hands and knees trembled so bad I could hardly stand upright, let alone hold a guitar. I nearly vomited behind the church.

My friend’s aunt, a foot-washing Baptist, found me. She said a prayer:

“Dear Lord, he ain’t got nothing in this world for him to worry about, ‘cause you’re his friend.”

My shakes went away.

This chapel is a lot like that one. Small. Only, this one used to be crowded on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I used to sit with a girl in the third pew from the back.

In this room, Miss Lynn played the “Bridal Chorus” on a small organ. A girl in white walked a green-carpet aisle. When I saw her, I left my body.

I was no longer standing at an altar in a cheap tux. I was floating in the rafters with Daddy.

He looked good. I asked how he’d been. He didn’t answer. I asked why he left; why he’d made me attend church retreats alone. No response.

He just sent me back to earth.

It was for the best. Because that was one hell of a day. One not fit for sadness. It was the day my loneliness got cured. And it happened in a small chapel, with everyone I love seated in one place. Even Daddy.

Like I said, I’m not a religious man.

But I’m trying.

24 comments

  1. Camille Atkins - April 29, 2017 11:08 am

    The fact that you are not a religious man, yet incredibly spiritual, is likely why I relate so well to your writing. I’m not a religious person either, but I think you are a Godsend!

    Reply
  2. Constance Ridgway - April 29, 2017 12:18 pm

    Religion NO, Jesus YES! What a God, friend, the “king of love my shepherd is”!!

    Reply
  3. Debbie Beach - April 29, 2017 12:26 pm

    I cried, speechless. Your father is sooooo proud of you. You’re using your gift Sean. When you get to heaven you’ll be able to say “I used up all the gifts you gave to me”!
    God Bless you

    Reply
  4. Judy Miller - April 29, 2017 12:27 pm

    I think you’re a religious man. Your posts are filled with Christian love, forgiveness and faith. Whether or not you go to church, proves nothing.

    Reply
  5. Laura Young - April 29, 2017 12:57 pm

    Small churches are the best- everyone related to each other and loving on each other. Hugs with each Sunday and shoulders with the dinner spread for funerals. My 92 year old mother lives for Sundays when all her “boyfriends” as she calls them, line up for her hugs as she walks in. She often has to ask me later who that was but she loves it. This post reminded me of my Daddy now dead 14 years- oh, how I miss him. I talk with him too, though I was fortunate to have him till he was 87. It also reminded me of good memories with Daddy like visiting his Daddy, my Grandpa, who used to grow sugar cane, use a mule to walk the grinder to squeeze out the juice, then cook up cane syrup. Fresh made, still warm cane syrup was such a treat. I am thankful such good memories offset the sad one, just like your good wedding ones helped you lose the lonely feelings.. Love you!!

    Reply
  6. Marilyn Jordan - April 29, 2017 3:26 pm

    I think you are more religious than you care to admit. It comes out in most of your stories.

    Reply
  7. Tommie Jordan - April 29, 2017 5:13 pm

    Just found out about your writings. Now I am in for the whole pound.. Love the old timer musings. Cry some remembering. Then think what a shame our kids and their kids have no reference to those good times. The current pace of life, electronics, cell phones, and social media block the re-emergence of them. Upon reading comments in those venues, all I can do is shake my head and remember how my momma said. “Tucker don’t mess in your own backyard, and for goodness sake, never put it on the street!” We are shouting out way too much on the street. So sad..

    Reply
  8. Bobbie - April 29, 2017 8:36 pm

    Chills and tears.

    Reply
  9. Linda Allen - April 30, 2017 12:58 am

    I am new to your writing. You are a magical weaver of stories and I thank you. Your ability to help us be in touch with powerful emotions is remarkable!

    Reply
  10. Sam Hunneman - April 30, 2017 2:20 am

    So happy you found your soulmate, and of course, your calling.

    Reply
  11. Kay Keel - April 30, 2017 4:48 pm

    “Religion” is not measured by how many times you’ve been to church but by the way you treat others.(Even the ones you don’t agree with.)
    Thank you for sharing your love and your gift with all of us. Every column touches me in one way or another…so bring laughter, some bring tears, but they are all beautiful.

    Reply
  12. Cindy Simmons - May 1, 2017 6:36 pm

    I grew up in a church like this, Beulah United Methodist Church in Lyman, Ms.
    I knew everyone in the church as most were related and behind the church was a small cemetery and of course knew all buried there because my grandparents made sure I knew a lil history of everyone buried, all my ancestors…Sauciers mostly. I love that lil church and all the memories it holds..

    Reply
  13. Susie Munz - May 2, 2017 3:08 am

    That was especially heartfelt, Sean.

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  14. J danner house - June 23, 2017 9:39 am

    KEEP TRYING. COME BACK HOME.

    Reply
  15. Heidi Britz - June 23, 2017 11:11 am

    “Dear Lord, he ain’t got nothing in this world for him to worry about, ‘cause you’re his friend.” Words of wisdom for this weary world!!

    Reply
  16. Deanna J - June 23, 2017 1:18 pm

    Our church is like this one! Perrys Chapel UM church, we have resaid our vows, married my son and daughter, and buried my daughter, with the help of God !
    And the people have dwindled down to 20, but even if one gathers in Gods name he will be there! Thank you!

    Reply
  17. Lori Klein - June 23, 2017 1:40 pm

    That is the sweetest prayer I think I’ve ever read. I’m going to make it my own.

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  18. Sandra Simpson - June 23, 2017 2:17 pm

    I love your stories.
    I am not religious either. I don’t even like that word. I do have a relationship with Jesus. I think you must too.
    Keep writing. We all need to read what you have to say.
    Thank you for sharing your memories.

    Reply
  19. Candie Carnett - June 23, 2017 4:32 pm

    When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder…. I love that song too Sean. Always have. I also love reading your stories everyday. Thanks so much for giving them to us.

    Reply
  20. Mary Harrison - June 23, 2017 5:09 pm

    Beautiful

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  21. Emily Gibson - June 23, 2017 5:30 pm

    Sean, you just described the little churches and chapels dotted all over this soil, flawed as they may be, but still home to the people the Good Lord has invited to walk through beat up squeaky doors to sit in creaky old wooden seats and hear His Word. We absorb what we can and walk out better than we came in. As Annie Dillard writes, you need a crash helmet to sit in church. Thanks for reminding me why we are a part of a little church body.

    Reply
  22. Annette Bailey - June 24, 2017 10:20 pm

    Sean…Ive only been reading your stories for a short while but I feel as though I’ve known you all my life. Kind of like a cousin. I grew up in a very small church. It had sawdust on the floor…so our Mom tells us. But I’ve been a member since I was 15…I was even Baptized in a muddy river much like John the Baptist did in the movies on TV. I don’t know why, but I felt closer to Jesus than if I was baptized inside. Our church was too poor. But you should see it now. The old church is still attached and I miss it. I go in there to pray and reminisce. Sean…I don’t exactly know what you mean when you say, “you aren’t a religious man”. I think you are closer to God than most. I hope I am because I want to see my Dad one day as well as my Grandparents. My Mom is dying of cancer right now and I’d really love to be with her too. I know I could go before her but she’s the one who had 6 children and told us about God. I hope you are there too sir…when the roll is called up yonder.

    Reply
  23. Brenda Gruenewald - June 24, 2017 11:40 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for speaking for so many us that do not have the gift of writing. This came from God. Love your writing.

    Reply
  24. Mary C - July 2, 2017 6:37 pm

    Even Jesus didn’t like religion. It is about a relationship with him.

    Reply

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