Chapter 1 The First Visit
So, if you are willing to sit back and listen to my long story, here it is in full. I have never told the whole thing to anyone before, so you're the lucky first. And if I had to start with a date, I would say it was that one day, the first time my family ever went to the Mennonite church.
I don't remember the exact date, just that it was a nice sunny day in July. One of the nicer days. I suppose that was a plus, seeing as the church meeting was actually held in an old town hall, that had no air conditioning.
My dad lectured us one more time before we got out of our twelve passenger van. "Now, stay quiet, don't talk about movies or television, and if you see something weird like them 'greeting each other with a holy kiss', don't snicker or draw attention to it. Just observe, and behave yourselves."
I was eleven and a half year old, the first time we went to that church. My only older sibling, my brother, Joe, was five years my senior. Then, I had three younger brothers, and three younger sisters.
My dad really wanted us to behave.
The building was small. It consisted of a small entryway, an even smaller nursery area, and a large main room with about seven rows of old wooden chairs with an aisle that was about four feet across down the middle. At the front of the room, there was a simple wooden podium, and then a raised platform, with more chairs scattered about up there. Something that immediately caught my eye was the long cord that ran the length of the platform, about seven feet above the top step. On the far left side, there was a dark blue curtain pushed all the way over by the wall.
The second thing I noticed, was the lack of noise. Being from a Regular Baptist background, I was so used to there being chatter from people visiting and catching up about the latest thing that they had done over the last week.
Here, though, if there was any talking, it was done in whispers.
I was invited by a couple of other girls my age to sit in the front. Apparently, if you sat in front of everyone, it made you more self conscious, and you ended up paying more attention. But there were four of us, walking to the front of the room. I remember how our dress shoes would clack on the floor, with it being hard wood. And the chairs. I really didn't like them. Old, wooden things. But I had to be on my best behavior, and I wasn't about to stop and and complain about them.
One thing I was prepared for, as my dad had warned us the night before, was the segregated seating. Even if you were married and had a large family, you still sat on opposite sides of the room if you were a guy or a girl. The girls sat on the left side, probably because of the nursery, and the guys sat on the right side.
When they sang, it was all acapella. The song leader came up, pulled a funny circular device out of his shirt pocket, and he blew into one of several holes in it. I immediately caught on, and realized he was giving us a pitch. All around the room, I heard humming, as different people found their pitch in relation to that, and then we started singing.
There is nothing like sitting in a room with ninety plus people singing in four part harmony, without any accompaniment. I was no stranger to acapella singing, as it was something my parents had introduced us all to several years ago. But I had never heard such a large group of people singing it, and getting all the right pitches, with all four parts. Soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
Everything about this group was so attractive. The way they dressed, the way they acted, their sense of community and kindness. It was this that caught my family's attention, and it was this that caused us to continue coming to their church long after that first day.
It was that first day that I would label as a turning point in my life, and the beginning of the reason I get asked what I do.