Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 15: Grandma Randall vs The Episcopalians

I have mentioned that the three of us kids were raised in the Episcopal church. My brother was an acolyte, helping the priest by performing ceremonial duties during worship such as carrying the processional cross and lighting alter candles. As a young child witnessing the worship ritual and hearing the recited prayers, the impression that settled upon me was that these adults were mostly bored with the whole matter and were personally uninvolved in the motions they were so deliberately and carefully walking themselves through. I felt a little resentful at being made to share in their boredom. All the robed people up by the alter doing their important tasks of positioning this or that object exactly here or there seemed to me to move way too slowly. Not only that, but they would unnecessarily drag out what they were saying to make it take as long as humanly possible to drone out the required words. This slow-motion performance seemed very tedious to my young, wandering and restless mind. I'd sit there next to my sister on the hard old oak pew in my white starched long-sleeved shirt and clip-on bow tie and crane my head back as far as it would go until I was looking straight up. I'd let my eyes wander in among the big dark brown wood beams which crisscrossed the high ceiling and intersected with one another in mid-air. Meanwhile, the distant voice of the priest droned on and on as it read, in that sophisticated and practiced high-church monotone fashion, from a prayer book or perhaps some mimeographed sheet.

This Episcopal tradition came to us through my mom and her parents, who presumably had received it from their parents. My dad's mom, whom we called grandma Randall, was a Southern Baptist and worked to deliver us from Episcopalianism by exposing us to Baptist influences whenever and however she could. I don't think we ever attended any Baptist Sunday services, but us kids were packed off to VBS--vacation Bible school--every summer. There we would make things such as real leather wallets on which we tooled designs such as eagles or crosses or pine cones and then we'd finish it off with shoelace-sized leather stitching all around. We made Indian beaded bracelets from kits and pictures pounded onto copper sheets and then mounted on wood plaques we had stained ourselves. Grandma Randall was in charge of the craft component of her church's VBS and she saw to it that we had good quality materials and tools to work with.

I'd have been happy to do crafts all day, but the gospel lessons could not be overlooked. We'd needed to hear a Bible story and most often that meant the giant flannel-board was brought out. As I recall, the flannel-board stories were done by missionaries who were home on furlow. The story might be Daniel in the loin's den or Jonah and the wale, but what ever it was, it ended with a miniature Billy Graham crusade-style plea by the missionery for us to invite Christ into our hearts to become our Lord and Savior. Heads would be bowed and all eyes closed (except for some curiosity-inspired peeking). You'd raise your hand if you wanted to, "answer the knock of Jesus and open the door of your heart." Did I ever raise my hand? I don't know. I can't say I remember ever doing so, yet I wouldn't be surprised if I were to find I had. Nothing even remotely similar to this ever went on at the Episcopal church. That might be the reason that VBS felt kind of like spiritual contraband. I felt a vague guilt, at being involved in something a bit clandestine, something we were not really suppose to be doing. It was, on the part of my grandma, perhaps a kind of "sneaky" evangelism--sneaky for the sake of the kids. Grandma Randall was trying to steer us away from the spiritually sterilizing and stultifying influence of the Episcopal church.

Don't miss the next episode: Grandma Randall goes to meet Jesus.

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