Tradition Bible Church is probably the most well-named church we’ve visited. It had everything you want in a 1930s church service: Women in long dresses and hats, King James English, classic hymns and a large church kitchen that was regularly employed for what one person called “all day dinner on the grounds.”
It was also a dying church; we didn’t see any young couples and there were no children, to speak of, anywhere in sight. Most people seemed to be at or near retirement age.
But there were a few middle aged couples and curiously, a row of teens in the back row; their presence explained to me later by the couple who invited for lunch being due to the fact the nearest ‘contemporary’ service was at least a 25-minute drive, and that church was looked on with suspicion. These teens had all grown up in TBC, and regarded each other as family.
So when a woman who I think was maybe 80+ years old announced it was “time for the children to come forward for their story;” I looked around again to see who exactly she had in mind.
“C’mon, Taylor; come up Melissa… where is Justine?” she beckoned; and one-by-one the teenagers — average age approximately 16 — arose from the comfort of the back pew and sauntered up to the front.
I learned later from our lunch hosts that the youngest among them — two boys 12 and 13 — were the ‘last’ kids that had been born in that church, and that there was a time when all of them had simply refused to come forward after Mildred would issue her summons from the platform, feeling they had reached a point in life where being asked questions like, “Do you think you could hit a giant with a slingshot?” were a bit beneath them.
But Mildred would not be denied the chance to tell her story; she had been doing so for 48 years; and so a few years back she started calling the teens by name, and rather than suffer that embarrassment, they returned to going forward and being dismissed to their service, which also got them out of having to sit through the sermon, and granted access to the aforementioned large kitchen.
It probably looked like this once; but that was then...
Phillip and Mark, the two youngest boys, simply sat on the far right of the platform sharing some kind of portable game console with the volume off. Derek, who was about 16 occupied the other end of the platform and simply stared at the back wall of the sanctuary as though caught in some kind of mystic vision. I turned around to see if whatever he was seeing might be of interest to all of us, but saw only a wall.
In the middle was Melissa, chewing gum loudly and whispering to a girl who looked 18 or 19, whose name I didn’t get; who laughed at something Melissa said, but then started a contagious yawn which I noticed spread to the adults.
Brianna, the niece of our lunch contacts, sat texting during the entire story and at one point her phone erupted with a loud chime that caught everyone by surprise except Mildred, who didn’t miss a beat telling the story of Samson and his long hair; a story which brought a question from the rather shaggy Nicholas, who looked about 17, and who asked as to whether Samson’s story indicated that he should not need a haircut; a question that Mildred apparently hadn’t anticipated and didn’t answer.
I think Kayla, who introduced herself to me personally after the service, just before trying to sell me a $5 chocolate bar to raise funds for the cheerleading squad, spent the whole story time rummaging through her bag in search of lost treasure. This is just a guess, but I would say that, like so many of the ten of teens up there, she didn’t hear a word, but I couldn’t pay much attention to her because — and this is also a guess — I’ll bet her cheerleading skirt is longer than whatever it was she was wearing sitting on the platform.
Amber had a pair of ear buds attached to an mp3 device which we couldn’t hear until she decided to scratch an ear itch, and then we heard a few bars of a rapper saying, “I’ve got what you need;” which caused Amber to blush and quickly return the offending bud to her ear. Near the end of the story there was also a shorter few seconds of drums when she pulled out the other ear bud and simply jammed it in Melissa’s ear and loudly whispered, “Check this out.”
And then there was Cody, the nephew of our lunch hosts, who simply read a comic book while sitting on the floor in front of the platform, kicking the communion table every 30 seconds or so, and never once looked up.
I really appreciated the fact the teens didn’t feel the need to feign interest in anything being said. At least there was no pretense.
At one point Mildred interrupted herself and noticed that Justine still hadn’t come forward. “Is Justine back there?” she asked, looking toward the back pew.
“No;” the kids replied as one, with Melissa adding, “She went into labor on Saturday afternoon.”
So maybe, finally, Tradition Bible Church will get a child to add to its cradle roll; the first in a dozen years; and maybe that will justify the continuation of the children’s story as part of the Sunday morning service there. Justine is 16 and says she really wants her child to grow up in church like she did and Mildred says she really wants to say she’s done the children’s story for 50 years, and she’s only got a couple of years to go.