(Author’s note: This story is going to seem like it’s religious in nature. It isn’t.)
It is difficult approaching impossible to get people to speak at the Children’s Moment sessions at the Retirement Acres church. Dealing with grandkids is one thing; speaking in front of the whole congregation is why we pay the preacher.
Nevertheless, when children attend, they need to learn something. Sparky’s daughter (an actual grown-up adult) attends RAUMC regularly, is good with children and child-like adults, and doesn’t mind speaking for free. Sparky still waited until she was out of town to volunteer her for the children’s moment presentations.
There aren’t many children running around Retirement Acres, because most children aren’t at least 64.5 years old with the ability to draw down their 401(k). But many of them visit their grandparents and attend church because it’s good for them and it kills at least an hour on Sunday morning.
One of the more frequent visitors is Little Miss M, who is so over all of this. She’s 6 and visits with her grandmother, Big Miss M. (Neither of these people weigh more than 100 pounds, but you know how it is with nicknames: they stick.). Little Miss M is smarter than most of us, but we hope it takes her longer to realize it than it took the entire rest of the church.
On a recent Sunday, Sparky’s daughter faced down the lions with a hastily-prepared children’s sermon. Having recently attended a football game, she still had the ticket stubs in her purse. Good thing, since otherwise she’d have had to wing the message right in front of everyone.
“Does everyone know what this is?” she asks both children. “It’s a ticket to a football game. Do you–“
“Who’s football game?” Little Missy asks.
“Doesn’t matter. Anyway–“
“Did they win?”
“They didn’t,” Sparky’s daughter sighs. “It was a pretty rough game.”
“Did you lose money?” These little sermons give us a lot more insight than we necessarily want.
“Not the point. As I was saying: this is a ticket. You buy them to go places, like on a train or an airplane.”
“Did you fly to the game?”
“We drove. Stop interrupting.”
“Jesus said ‘suffer the little children’–,”
“The little children aren’t the only ones suffering. So you buy a ticket to go places. Can you buy a ticket to Heaven?” She’s going to get through this willy or nilly, and she’s going to drag us with her.
“No,” Little Missy rolls her eyes. This is so lame.
“Well why not?” Sparky’s daughter works with special needs students most of the time. Right now she’s developing a special need to substitute wine for the grape juice we’ll be having at communion. But maybe, hopefully, we’re back on track. Maybe. Because there’s no hope at all for the wine. Regardless, this was exactly the opening she needed to plunge right into the message about how grace is a gift not a purchase and you can’t–
“Because,” Little Miss huffs. “You’re dead and you can’t get a job.”
So much for being back on track. And so much for Sparky’s daughter doing the children’s moment. In the wake of the only moment in recent memory (such as it is) to get a standing ovation, the preacher’s wife decides she’ll take over. This isn’t that difficult, after all. You just have to get their attention. Literally anyone could do this. Honestly.
So the following Sunday, both children troop dutifully forward to be learned a thing. As with many things that happen in Retirement Acres, they’re not going to be the only ones who get a lesson today.
Mrs Preacher puts the kids on the front row. Nobody was using it anyway.
“Why don’t you sit here so I can see your adorable little faces,” she threatens. That expression is probably supposed to look like a smile, but from back here she seems to be baring her teeth.
“You could see them if we sat on the altar rail too,” Little Miss points out.
“But then you can make faces at the people and you shouldn’t make faces at people in church.”
“I don’t remember that part of the Commandments.”
The congregation starts to chuckle before Mrs Preacher turns a death glare on them, as if to say “the next person to encourage them gets to come do this.” That shuts down any hope of laughter for today. Almost, we can hear Mr. Preacher groan from the pulpit.
But down front, we’re getting back to business. Mrs Preacher pulls out a tube of toothpaste and a piece of cardboard. I’m really not sure arts and crafts are a great idea, but there’s literally no force in the ‘verse that could drag that idea out of me right now. I’ve already been approached multiple times for this job, mostly because the congregation thinks that I’m also a child and could probably speak their language. Even after I pointed out that I could be the parent to either of the kids in question, they sort of shrugged and agreed privately to try again later because maybe I’d forget.
“This is toothpaste,” Mrs. Preacher was saying as she squoze some out on the cardboard. “You see what I’m doing?”
“Are you going to brush your teeth in the baptismal?” Little Miss M asks. It seems like a valid question. Someone goes to see if we can get oxygen for the preacher.
“Hush up. You see, the thing about toothpaste is this: once you squeeze it out of the tube, you can’t put it back. It’s just out there.” She turns a sharp gaze on her charges, who nod. They have no idea where this is headed. Unfortunately, neither do we. “Toothpaste can be just like words. Once you put them out there, you can’t get them back no matter how hard you try. So you shouldn’t say mean things or ugly things about people, because once they’re out you can’t get them back. Just like the toothpaste. Do you understand me?”
“Are you telling us this because you told everyone that Bruce the dog would be a better leader for Ladies’ Aid than Miss Robin? Because you can’t take that back either.”
A dead solid silence descends on the sanctuary. You couldn’t in good conscience describe it as a peaceful silence, or even a contemplative silence. It’s the silence that comes when the church is individually praying for a screaming catfight right in the middle of the service.
Sunlight filters in through the stained glass windows, each of which bears a humble memorial to the classes that paid for them, many decades before today and in less contentious times. Outside, a mockingbird fusses with a squirrel over something trivial that is not about to involve approximately 60% of the membership. Big Miss M starts to question the wisdom of religious education for a child so young; maybe she’d like dance classes better. Big Miss M’s best friend titters to herself because she knows that eventually someone (probably Little Miss M) will let slip the news that Big Miss M started that conversation herself by expressing the idea that a relative newcomer should not be handed the reigns to the single functioning organization inside the church until she can reliably remember to take off her work badge before coming to meetings. (Come on. Everyone knows the men’s group meets to have coffee and occasionally pancakes and is not a force for or againts anything, except people driving too fast through Retirement Acres.)
One by one, the members of the ladies’ aid who urged me to take the position because they said I’d be great at it turn to look at me. I am too busy trying to dig a hole and escape through it to notice them. Slowly, the church comes to realize that the audible rumble is not, in fact, the sound of approaching horsemen, or even the air conditioner breaking down finally, but the sound of the preacher desperately trying to turn a laughing fit into a coughing fit. He is not successful in this endeavor, which is unfortunate. The phrase “only God can judge me” is completely invalid in situations that involve Mrs. Preacher.
“And you shouldn’t repeat things that weren’t said to you either,” Mrs Preacher snaps. “Class dismissed.”
And that’s how the children’s sermons at Retirement Acres Church came to a screeching halt.
Take a lesson, readers: brushing your teeth in the baptismal font does sound pretty funny.