Sunday, April 12, 2009


Every Easter I get the crazy idea of going to church. In Rahway NJ it was Second Presbyterian, the town's only reliably liberal congregation, but like most mainline protestant churches hereabouts one that's been declining in membership for a long time. In Elizabeth, it would be Epworth Methodist, two long blocks away, the sole remaining UMC in the city, & a rather forlorn looking place - I've been inside for rummage sales & it was unpromising. In both churches, even on Easter you couldn't go & remain relatively anonymous, sit through the service, say hi to the pastor on the way out, & skeedaddle. It's hard to know how to dress, too. On ordinary Sundays, only African-American churches seem to encourage the kind of clothing that was de rigueur through my parents' generation. Except women's hats; black churches have always done hats better. On the few occasions I attended my sister's church, she insisted I wear a tie even though a lot of men went tieless. The tie was alright with me, I have no preferences. But do congregants still dress special for Easter? So I never go, it's too much of a social stretch. I'd have to attend an evangelical church or Catholic mass to be part of a crowd. You never know what the evangelicals will do - you might get people waving their arms & rolling in the aisles & a preacher railing against Darwin. Catholics just figure you're from out of town, & the service might be in Spanish.

I suppose the impulse is similar to going to the boardwalk. I have Jersey boardwalks so internalized that I can summon up the sights & sounds instantly in my mind (I did just by writing that sentence). I'm only reconnecting with memories of pleasant feelings, & I guard those feelings to keep them pleasant. I've had a few unpleasant experiences around boardwalks. But the boardwalks are still there. So are the churches.

I remember the Easter crowds at Community Methodist. They had to open up the folding doors to the side chapel to accommodate them. Who were all those people? The lilies spread across the church, along the communion railing, on the side tables, behind the pulpit, everywhere. Even my parents went to church on Easter. Everyone dressed up swell for the occasion, new suits & sports coats, bright colored dresses, hats both frilly & conservative. The great opening anthem, "Christ the Lord is Risen today!", the organist cranked it up, had all kinds of special transition fills between verses. Afterward, the long line past the pastor, the whole congregation wanted to exit his door. The milling around outside, had to show off the clothes & the kids. Everyone was nice to everyone else, & it was always springtime, early or later. Of course, in memory, I'm small & looking up at grownups, & there are strange men & women looking down at me & smiling, mister this & missus that, I had no idea who they were because, like my own parents, they rarely showed up for church, & I rarely saw the inside of the sanctuary myself, because I attended Sunday School, not worship services. Except on Easter & another springtime event called Children's Day when the service was geared to kids & had cutesy participatory stuff for the amusement of the adults. The day the very little children sang "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." I had to do it. We all had to to do it. It was an embarrassing rite of passage & you had no choice but to get it over with, & if you were lucky you were so frozen with fear that the whole thing was a blur, as it was for me. I wasn't traumatized, so I guess that means I didn't burst out crying. The child who cried was part of the entertainment.

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