2008.08.20 Sunday morning trip to the past

Written by David Green.


It was like I joined Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, for a ride in the “wayback” time machine. I know that sentence won’t mean a thing to many readers, but those who watched the Rocky and Bullwinkle show back in the 1960s will know what I mean.

And the 1960s is where I was transported Sunday morning. I was suddenly back in a structure that I frequented on Sunday mornings in the 1960s, and stranger still, back among many of the faces that I knew back then.

The occasion was the special 150th  anniversary service of Morenci’s First Congregational Church.

I walked along the back of the pews and encountered Mary Jane Borton looking a lot like the Mary Jane Borton I knew 40 years ago. I walked down the aisle and spotted Sylvia Sims looking pretty much like Sylvia Sims.

I sat down with my parents and sister, Diane, and saw Mary Jane’s little sister, Lisa. I don’t remember the 1960s Lisa, but we’ve run across one another frequently at Fayette cross country and track meets.

I didn’t go to the 150th as a reporter. It was one of those rare moments when I was allowed to attend just as a local resident. It wasn’t until later that I wished I had taken some notes.

Sylvia sang a solo, just like she used to do. Choyce Strayer Quigley’s talented voice stood out during a hymn, just like it used to do. I saw Jim Whitehouse in the audience. Little Stevie Kutzley was there. Where had those 30 years gone?

Of course there was a different pastor at the pulpit, but I liked this one. Jack Cahill has an informal style that I appreciated and I enjoyed a story that he told. It went something like this, although I wasn’t taking notes.

A man bought an old run-down farm that hadn’t been cared for in years. It took him three years to get it back in shape. Mowing, plowing, painting, fixing up—it was an enormous task, but finally he had the place looking good.

About that time a pious neighbor stopped over to take a look and said, “The Lord has really worked wonders with this old place.”

The farmer thought about that a moment and replied, “You’re right, but you should have seen it when the Lord had it all to himself.”

I don’t recall how Jack worked this into his message, but it took me back to high school and seemed to provide a clear analogy to the differences between us Congregational kids and some of our more fundamentalist classmates.

I remember their assertion that most everyone on Earth was headed to Hell except for them and others like them. Rather than win me over, it made me start to question the tenets of their belief.

But today I was among the Congregational kids. Carol Sutton. Valerie Clark. John Bancroft. Lee Ann Ranger. Susan Webster. What a crowd. Where were Molly Fish and her brothers? Jim Clark, Tom Pobanz Janet Stutzman and Janice Fink were missing, too.

John Bancroft told the crowd about the time the youth group went to a Detroit church to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., speak. It’s an experience that’s never left him.

He also talked about the time he threw an ice ball and hit Donnie Borton in the face. John took off running and sought sanctuary in the sanctuary of the church. Donnie still found him and gave him a good punch in the face. Rev. Thomas Toy heard the commotion and saved John from further punishment.

Sylvia took me to look at a photo display that included the two of us in a Sunday School photo. She figured I would remember the night that John Bryner and I played “Good Vibrations” over and over and over before a youth group meeting got underway. She was wrong, I didn’t.

I remember when the pastor of the day, R. Paul Koons, arranged for our trip to the World’s Fair in New York City, plus many other unique opportunities. Several of us agreed that we were extremely fortunate to have Rev. Koons as our leader.

When Sylvia spoke to the luncheon crowd, she said that in looking around the room, she was reminded not just of the familiar faces she knew as a child, but also of all the people who were part of the church in decades past but are no longer among the living.

I guess that’s the magic of a “wayback machine.”

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