Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2010

Traditions that Don’t Make Sense

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.


  1. I notice you have your HEEL right on top of this Traditional church and you are TWISTING it. This has been the lot of possibly thousands of similar churches in North America in the several decades past. These were very healthy assemblies of believers all over our this Continent. Most had a Missionary thrust,and their Mission fields are STILL active!! Much of this “change” started with a Boston pastor* and other very influential Christian leaders,when they declared en bloc that the” New Evangelicalism has changed it’s strategy from one of separation to one of infilteration.To start with, it is telling us that the separation demanded in the Bible is outdated *REF.”The New Evangelicaism”–by Charles Woodbridge–RespectfullyJL

    Comment by Joe Lambert — October 25, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

  2. i kinda react to the comment above.
    is the “separation demanded in the Bible” to make the church irrelevant to those outside of it? if this body has no life because we cling to outdated things and buck against change for the sake of ourselves then where do we find ourselves? i say we find ourselves with no life, and clinging to a past that has gone by. a church life where the only growth that happens in a church body is when a 16 year old gives birth. where is the relevance of church? where is its life?
    church without relevance to the lives of those in it looks pretty dead to me. sorry if that means that i’m “twisting on the neck of the church” too but that’s just because it seems to need to be twisted on.

    Comment by shallowfrozenwater — October 25, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

  3. Just to clarify, this is a work of fiction, okay? There is no such place as Tradition Bible Church (Google it) and there was no specific church visit or lunch invitation.

    It IS based on a variety of recent discussions we’ve been having. If your “liturgy” includes a children’s service, what do you do if there’s no kids? (We’ve actually seen it happen where they went ahead with it even though the kids weren’t there; but that’s not what inspired this.)

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 25, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

  4. Retort for retort,really ,is not too gainful,so I’ll say that the Word of God is understood to be it’s own INTERPRETOR.So I think it honest to suggest that we consult the Scriptures for the Holy Spirits interpretation of all Bible doctrine, including the H/S teaching of Bible separationJL

    Comment by Joe Lambert — October 25, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  5. I currently attend a dying church. It is dying because traditions trump relevance.And it is dying because they became so insular that they no longer even try to reach out in the name of Christ. I once heard a speaker ask how many people still live in a house with the same technology as 1970. No one did. And as we took a look around the sanctuary, empty of youth and empty of energy,he asked “So what’s up with the house of God?”

    Tonight I am , in fact, drafting my own resignation letter to my church. My talents and treasure and time should be poured into a place where everything is alive with the vision of God! It doesn’t have to be huge but it has to be relevant. The Bible is relevant…the message is relevant…Christ is always relevant. But the church? Not always

    Comment by Cynthia — October 25, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

  6. Here’s a sentence I really like from Today’s post at Christianity 201:

    The church must be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 25, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  7. This “fiction” story would be funny if it wasn’t so true!

    I have visited many a church where tradition was the ONLY thing keeping the church going.

    It is time for REVIVAL!

    Comment by Rick Apperson — October 28, 2010 @ 9:49 am

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