Olden Days

I had a dream. It was a vivid dream. It was sunny. I was in my childhood Sunday school classroom, alone. It was like nothing had changed.

The paned windows were slung open. It was a magnificent day outside. The daylight was so bright it hurt your heart. The sound of starlings came from the trees.

It was your typical church classroom. There was a flannel board, with paper Bible-story characters stuck to the felt. I stood to examine the storytelling board for old time’s sake.

Apparently some kids had taken Sharpies to the cutout characters because Paul and Silas were defaced. Paul was smoking a cigarette, and Silas had a tattoo of a woman on his forearm. The kid responsible for this would be sentenced to hard time mowing the church lawn until he was forty.

My attention moved from the classroom when I heard a sound. A melodic noise coming from the other room. People singing. I knew this song. I can still remember the words.

“O there’s sunshine,
“Sunshine in my soul,
“Blessed sunshine,
“Blessed sunshine in my soul…”

It’s been a while since I’ve heard this standard. Heck. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that many people in one room, singing, smiling, exchanging germs.

But in my dream, it was olden times. I wandered into the tiny sanctuary. The sight made my insides turn to Jello. Just seeing those recognizable faces, the battered pews, the towhead children holding hymnals.

I saw the whole gang. There was elderly Mister Dan, balding, with a crown of white fuzz around his head. He was red faced, because he was bad to drink.

And old Miss Eleanor, wearing her weird hat. I think they buried her in that hat.

And look! There’s my cousin! He’s so young! Look at him, standing next to my aunt. And who is that standing beside… Wait! That’s me! There I am! I’m 5 years old, wearing khakis and a button down. Was I really that little?

On the platform was our music minister, waving arms back and forth, keeping time. His elderly wife, Miss Lydia behind the Mason & Hamlin piano, swaying like Ronnie Milsap.

In the back of the chapel, near the door, stood Mister Fred, who always watched the door. He never moved. He was our usher. He carried a modest stack of leaflet bulletins just in case a visitor happened by.

Funny. We actually believed that some hapless passerby would visit a tiny, 26-person congregation out of a clear sky, just because. Which seems a little far-fetched when you think about it. After all, when was the last time you stopped by a strange church in the middle of the woods uninvited?

But do you know something? That is exactly what happened one day.

I remember one Sunday morning a woman and her three kids walked through the doors during preaching. She was new to our area, and nobody knew her.

You could see she was embarrassed when she realized she had interrupted the sermon. Her face went flush, she slid into the back pew, head down. She had long stringy hair, her clothes were old. And her kids looked like they hadn’t had a bath since the Kennedy Administration.

What happened next lives in my memory forever. The preacher could have kept the service going and let her blend into the back row without drawing attention to her. But elderly pulpiteers would rather die than deny a heartfelt welcome to even the least of these.

He flew off the pulpit, unbuttoned his coat, arms outstretched, and gave every member of that family a handshake. He declared service was over.

At first, it was so awkward you just wanted to die. But then, everyone got into the spirit of it. They all took turns shaking the woman’s hand, welcoming her, introducing themselves. Then someone told us kids to take the woman’s children outside and play.

Play? On a Sunday morning? We were confused. Church wasn’t even over yet.

“Yes! Go! Play!” said Miss Wilma. “Make the new kids feel welcome. Now shoo! Get outta here before I beat your butt.”

You didn’t have to tell us more than once. We unhitched our clip-on neckties and our feet only touched the ground twice. There would be no butt beatings that day.

The woods behind the church were among the most legendary in the world. They were home to the remains of an old millhouse, abandoned Buicks, and a creek loaded with mudbugs. We all played until we ruined our clothes with grass stains and creekwater.

Inside the building, you could hear everyone chatting and laughing. Fellowship had begun. Which meant that the sacrament of fried chicken was about to be observed.

Finally, everyone left for Sister Alpharetta’s house to gorge themselves on fried poultry and Sunday dinner. A good time was had by all.

By the time it was dark, the newcomer woman was as much a part of that tiny church as the guy who hung the steeple. Which meant she would never have to pay a plumber or electrician again. Neither would she lack a babysitter. Or a car. Or groceries. All she had to do was make a phone call. They made her the maintenance lady. They gave her a part-time salary.

That woman went to church until she died. Last I heard, one of her kids is a doctor in Houston.

When my dream was over, I awoke. I found myself lying in bed. There was a pandemic going on. The world had seemingly gone downhill in a hand basket. Except it hadn’t. Not in my heart. Because there was sunshine.

Blessed sunshine in my soul.


  1. Karen Greatrix - February 16, 2021 6:28 am

    This is the part of church that so many people miss. The people helping each other.

  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - February 16, 2021 6:31 am

    I really wish the Baptist Church I grew up in was as welcoming. The way I remember it, you’d have to attend about 6 weeks before anyone would speak. There were 3 or 4 families that ran the church. My family wasn’t one. You had to pass muster with all or just sit on the back row & hope one day to be accepted.
    I didn’t miss a Sunday for at least 16 years.
    As an adult I may go twice a year for special occasions.
    The same families still have the stronghold.
    Sad but true.

  3. John Steinbach - February 16, 2021 10:07 am

    I don’t know that I’ve ever known daylight so bright it hurt my heart. But I’m glad you did, because I’ll watch for it next time. Thanks, Sean!

  4. Leigh Amiot - February 16, 2021 10:49 am

    This brings to mind another wonderful, old song, “Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul…” 🎶
    The pandemic has made us long for the kind of fellowship you describe. Oh, do I look forward to resuming it.

  5. Julie Patterson - February 16, 2021 11:29 am

    Sean, this is the definition of church. 🎵”And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love/ And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”🎵 Thank you for sharing a beautiful memory.

  6. Ron Mahn - February 16, 2021 12:25 pm

    Grew up in Miami Florida during the late fifties a d sixties, in a church very similar to yours in your dream … it was a bunch of people so it wasn’t perfect … and they all knew each other’s business but they also knew how to take care of one another really well … I was the recipient of a lotta love, encouragement, and occasional correction … thank you for that reminder of that season, this morning

  7. Nell Thomas - February 16, 2021 12:49 pm

    I have had many thoughts and dreams about the growing up in church days. Same church that I was christened and married in. Oh- how I miss those days now. All the folks and how they influenced by life. They come to mind and how you wish you could see them again.
    *There were some characters alright.*
    Recently a cousin that I grew up and attended church with, came across a old photo -going through some of her mother’s things. The choir, the youth choir, the choir director, Miss Crisco. Apparently, it was a Christmas program- white robes, big bows- probably red. There was young me about 8- I guess- looking grim. I could not carry a tune in a tin bucket-but you better be up in that choir or you would get a sermon from Great Aunt Mable.

  8. Jan - February 16, 2021 12:59 pm

    How I crave that sunshine today! But there is sunshine in my soul even if it isn’t outside my window!

  9. Dianne - February 16, 2021 1:42 pm

    Thank you for your “sunshine” today, Sean, another dreary, cold and rainy day here in Georgia. My day is sunnier because of you!!

  10. Nancy - February 16, 2021 1:47 pm

    Oh my 🥲 thank you.

  11. Robin Royce - February 16, 2021 1:48 pm

    Precious memories. ” Flannel boards ” opened the floodgate! Thanks.

  12. Julie - February 16, 2021 2:09 pm

    I am a dreamer, but not much of a writer. YOU, Sean, are BOTH! And you bless us everyday with your gifts, for which we are so very grateful❣️
    I often dream of a grade school classroom, which was very much like church. Back in the 50’s there was no line drawn between the two, especially in the Catholic Faith. Every subject had the common thread of religion…math was the funniest…if you have 5 priests, 3 nuns, and the Pope drops by…how many “religious” are there altogether?
    This column speaks to the beauty of embracing each other in the Spirit of Love…something we all need, especially in these hard times. So reach out to that person who is hurting more than you, and both will be better for it, Amen✝️

  13. Heidi - February 16, 2021 2:16 pm

    I’ve been having anarchy dreams. Don’t know what that says about my mind. I’d give a lot for a “Sunshine in my Soul” dream. Maybe I need fried chicken first.

  14. Tammy S. - February 16, 2021 3:00 pm

    ❤️⛪️🐔 Love this!!

  15. wareagletigers - February 16, 2021 3:22 pm

    What a beautiful, compassionate story! We should all be so fortunate to experience the love of Jesus in the way that this woman’s family did. Even if it was only a dream.

  16. Kathie - February 16, 2021 3:23 pm

    What a beautiful heart-warming memory💗 I think those sweet old days are gone forever— except in our hearts.

  17. Christina - February 16, 2021 4:04 pm

    In a time when many are disheartened by the church, this is a gift and a dream that I wish would come true everywhere (esp. the fried chicken part 😂).

  18. Jane - February 16, 2021 4:50 pm

    So true. I went to one of those churches. It is a sweet memory.

  19. Bob Brenner - February 16, 2021 4:57 pm

    Great memories of a time long ago,. But not forgotten! I would bet that even today that family has fond memories of that special country church and the good people who took them into their family.

  20. Bob Conklin - February 16, 2021 5:00 pm

    Thanks Sean, I needed that! I guess we all do.

  21. Michael Hawke - February 16, 2021 5:09 pm

    I remember such a Sunday in Leary, GA. This wasn’t long ago. A couple from Kinsey, AL was headed home on a Sunday morning. It was 11:00 so they stopped when they saw a church. They slipped into the back row unnoticed by the congregation. As we sang our opening hymn, everyone fought the urge to turn around to see who was singing so strongly behind us. It was great!

  22. Floyd White - February 16, 2021 5:15 pm

    Floods of memories came to me reading this. Daddy was a preacher so I saw a few of these congregations like you described. Thanks for the memories.

  23. Johnny C - February 16, 2021 5:36 pm

    🎶“Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end!”🎶

    We need a little more of the “olden days” today!

  24. Helen De Prima - February 16, 2021 6:13 pm

    No social welfare program can equal a small-town church.

  25. Linda Moon - February 16, 2021 6:26 pm

    I taught in a church-school classroom for a brief while, and I used a flannel board. Much of my family’s real church life was like your dream, Sean. Kids who are Sunday School Sharpie Artists often grow up to have creative souls full of sunshine and generosity. Mine did. And I think you did, too….all in real life, not just dreams. My kids and you bring blessings to my soul!

  26. Jan Douglas - February 16, 2021 6:32 pm

    You’ve done it again, Sean. Not a dry eye in the house. Many thanks.

  27. David P B Feder - February 16, 2021 6:51 pm

    Sean, don’t ever doubt how powerful a wordsmith you are.

  28. missusmux - February 16, 2021 9:13 pm

    What a beautiful blending of memories in your dream. Wasn’t that great to relive, even for a few moments? I’m thankful for many memories of times like that. I’m also grateful to be a member of a good old fashioned Baptist church that is joyful and friendly. The children’s Sunday School teacher still uses flannel board stories and we have fun fellowships. While there are in person services, there’s also online streaming for anyone for any reason prefer during the pandemic. I love the family atmosphere, and that I have friends of all ages. Our pastor smiles like the sunshine that you reference. He and his wife and other members make everyone feel welcome and glad to be there. Oh and yes, we still use hymnals and King James Bibles. Imagine that in New England in 2021. Blessed beyond measure. Thanks for sharing the dream. It was perfect in every detail.

  29. Camille Moss - February 17, 2021 4:52 am

    Thank you for taking me back to my childhood home church in SW GA. Such a time and place has never been again…and the light so bright it hurts your heart? I know that light…

  30. Charaleen Wright - February 17, 2021 5:47 am


  31. Bill - February 17, 2021 9:20 pm

    Memories are wonderful. I have too many to list, but I remember a church in my home town like the one you speak about here. It was our second church. The first one was in a neighboring city. We moved to a church closer to where we lived. It was a Presbyterian church, our first one was a Hungarian Evangelical church. We were Hungarian. Anyway, this new church had a pastor that was a down home type. HIs wife played the piano and was very good. The people were very welcoming. We had a Sunday school that we attended every week. I sang in the children’s choir, too. I guess that’s where I got my love of music, especially organ music. I was never in the choir in school, but I did take trombone lessons in the 5th grade band for about a year, and then I studied piano in the 6th grade for about 2 years. Never did like the lessons, or maybe it was the teacher, , or just practicing, to be honest. Then my uncle Mike bought a Hammond Spinet organ. That was magic. After a period of time, my parents bought me a Wurlitzer spinet organ. It was a model 4300. This was big deal. I took lessons for about 3 years and then studied seriously. I eventually played in restaurants and bars in the 70’s. bars. I went to college and studied pipe organ for 3 years. During this time I played organ several churches finally ending in a Lutheran LCMS church I went to several summer seminars at the Ft. Wayne LCMS seminary and learned the way to play a proper church service. I still love good classical organ music as well as popular music. Anyone remember Lenny Dee from Florida. I had the opportunity to hear him in person at his place in St Petersburg Beach. He was quite a showman! After that I got a Hammond B-3 organ which I still have. That was in 1969. Music is great. Of course, some of the new stuff I’m not sure about

  32. Lonnie - February 18, 2021 2:18 pm

    So my question is, “What will it take to get us back to that showing of love for our fellowmen. Even when we are complete strangers?”.


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