This was an assignment for a correspondence course in writing for children. The object was to recount a childhood memory. The church was First Congregational in Corona, California, and I was ten years old. Memory is a tricky thing. I was surprised to discover, many years later, that the stained glass window of shepherd and lamb (which I remembered vividly) did not exist. I must have transposed it from some other, later church experience. Other than that, I think the imagery is pretty close to the truth.

The church looks like a medieval castle. Half-timbered walls rise above the granite foundations, surmounted by battlements and flanked by two massive square towers. Ivy climbs the walls on the shaded north side. As we climb the long flight of concrete stairs, the bells in the smaller tower ring joyously, nearly drowning out the cooing of the pigeons on the roof.

The great wooden doors of the main entrance are opened wide, welcoming us in. Inside, the sound of the bells is subdued. We shake the hands of the official greeters, murmuring a polite “Good morning.” Our footsteps make no sound on the soft carpet. Through the half-opened parlor door we catch a glimpse of white tablecloth; ladies are setting out plates of cookies to be served later with coffee and lemonade. A group of high school students spills down the stairs from their Sunday School room in the tower. An usher hands out worship folders as we enter the sanctuary.

Men in dark suits and starched white shirts escort ladies wearing colorful dresses and little veiled hats. Scrubbed and pressed children tiptoe softly, speaking in whispers. The mingled scents of after shaves and perfumes fills the church like a summer garden.

The bells have stopped; the people make soft rustling sounds as they settle into the polished pews. Occasionally a muffled cough, or a child’s high-pitched voice, quickly hushed, punctuates the silence. Now the pipe organ begins, announcing that the service is about to begin. The last stragglers hurry to their seats.

The red-robed choir files in. Their voices join the organ, lifting our thoughts as the music soars. The altar candles are lit; their soft glow is reflected from the gleaming brass cross. The minister leads the congregation in prayer.

Announcements are followed by hymns In which all join enthusiastically, if not harmoniously. We pray together; the familiar words “Our Father, Who art in heaven …” take on a new dimension as we speak them in unison, each individual voice part of the one great voice. Coins clink and tithe envelopes rustle as the offering plates are passed.

The minister begins his sermon. Most of the adults appear to be listening attentively, although some have their eyes closed. Children softly scribble pictures on their worship folders or fidget in their seats as the sermon drones interminably on. The pews seem to get harder.

Sunlight streaming through stained glass windows makes rainbows on the walls. The shepherd carries a lamb; an angel smiles benignly. In spite of hard pews and lengthy preaching, there is a feeling of peace and security here. We are safe in our castle, surrounded by family and friends.

The choir sings a final song; the minister says his last words. The scent of fresh-brewed coffee drifts from the parlor as we exit to organ accompaniment.

The cookies are home-made, oatmeal with raisins and lots of cinnamon. While the grownups talk on and on, the children eat their fill.

Jan Clark 1996