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Mack Williams: ‘Children’s’ sermon

Something strange happened at church the other Sunday. Even though Youth Sunday can sometime be a little strange, it wasn’t that. Instead, it was a “Youth-less” Sunday, almost as if the Pied Piper of Hamlin had gone piping through Danville and “piped” them all away; or if the Child Catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”(1968) had gathered them all up! It was also, as if, in paraphrase: “No one had suffered the little children to come unto church.”

Tom Gillespie, church elder who always gives a great children’s sermon, left his place next to me in the choir’s tenor section with his “children’s sermon props” in hand. He asked the children to “come forth” (different than the summoning of Lazarus).

Tom gazed about the church (normally, not theatrically, with hand cupped over brow), but no child was there to come forward!

Some guys in the choir had once said that in the event of a “child-less Sunday” for the children’s sermon, some of the “wackier” of us (your’s truly included) would make our way to the steps to sit and be enlightened by an elder or deacon.

Tom then invited the deacon who had read the announcements; and she moved her appointed chair down nearer the usual “kid’s space” on the altar steps. I decided to join in, providing another listening ear for Tom, so I picked up my British Wolseley pith helmet (which I’d worn to church, it being a hot day, and all), put it on, and went down, looking like Dora the Explorer’s grandfather, or like Stanley (or at least, Spencer Tracy) looking about for Dr. Livingston, or an extremely (impossibly) aged veteran who had fought under Lord Kitchener in the Boer War.

The deacon showed concern as I lowered myself to the step, knowing my hips were artificial. But things worked out well; and I was able to successfully use my replaced hips to lower my original, un-replaced -ss upon the church altar step.

Then, upon my “seating,” the Rev. Dr. Ramey (I would say “Right Reverend,” but he’s Presbyterian), being a “child in his 80s,” joined me (I’m 68, but sometimes about 6, maybe 7) at the children’s sermon. Dr. Ramey knows that we are all just “children of God.”

I think this was my very first Children’s sermon ever, at the “un-childly” age of 68! If they had them when I was a child Saint Paul’s Lutheran, I don’t remember. When I started school at Granite Quarry, I don’t even think there was kindergarten.

Having some “children,” at hand (not “firmly by the hand” as management advises at the end of the amusement park ride), Tom began his children’s sermon by giving each of us a few denominations of Monopoly money, and then told the story of the Prodigal Son. But first, he told us to rip our Monopoly money in half, symbolizing the “squandering” of the Prodigal.

Tom then talked about the qualities of the Prodigal’s father having to do with whether the Prodigal decided to return home after having “gone to seed” (I thought about some time I had squandered at Appalachian years ago, by skipping class; but almost unconsciously knowing that my mother, Lorraine Williams, would forgive me, despite my squandering).

I think Tom was trying to teach “us kids” that the quality of the person to whom we ask forgiveness makes a big difference in our willingness to do the “asking.” One would not want to ask forgiveness from someone who might forgive, but never forget it, or let us forget it, forever and ever.

As I see it: instead of seeking forgiveness for our wrongs from Captain Bligh, we would much rather seek forgiveness from Mr. Christian (word play with deeper meaning).

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