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I was just eight or nine–this happened a long, long time ago. I was just a kid. I honestly can’t remember how it was we were even in ye old church that night. But I remember it was dark; it was dark and we were being naughty, which means no parents were around. No way.
Where we got the idea, I don’t know. Whether it was my idea or the other kids’ is something I don’t remember. For sure, there were no girls. All of this happened before Betty Friedan. What happened that night was naughty-boy stuff–little kid, naughty-boy stuff. And it was no crime. What we did was bad only because we thought it was naughty.
Which was, back then, the very best kind of fun.
The wood floor of the old church was waxed beautifully, as I remember, shiny in whatever the sanctuary offered from downtown streetlights coming through the stained glass. It was dark. All of this had to happen at night. I can’t imagine pulling off such sacrilege during the day.
I remember stealing a glance under the pews during worship back then and finding myself in a vast forest of legs, enough oxfords for a shoe store. Looking under the pews was a bizarre delight, but momentary because my parents thought such behavior unseemly in the house of the Lord.
What’s coming here is hardly some agonized, mulled-over confession. Simply enough, we slid under the pews, laid out on that slippery wooden floor, then grabbed the benches above us, pulled hard, and zipped our bodies up and down the pitch of the sanctuary, gliding along gloriously. For a few stolen minutes of sheer joy, First Christian Reformed Church, Oostburg, Wisconsin–the old one, downtown–was a super slippery-slide.
Even though we had a great time, no one laughed out loud. We didn’t dare. Every Sunday in that church, worship began with the same assertion: “the Lord is in His holy temple–Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Nobody laughed out loud during all that slip-sliding, so the whole dark church suffered our abuse in perfect silence.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. That was it.
I wasn’t even ten years old when the old church came down and the new one went up at the edge of town. But I’d sat through nine years of sermons twice a Sunday in the old one, Saturday morning catechism, countless Sunday School lessons. Oostburg Christian Reformed was my first church.
But last week, when I stood there in front of that ex-church in Oak Harbor, Washington, the one you see up top, the only memory to rise from my mind’s cavernous crypt was the night a couple of us–I don’t even remember who–went gliding along in the dark in perfect silence, laughing hysterically–but not out loud. That old Oak Harbor church had to have been built from the same blueprint.
Old Oostburg CRC has been gone for almost sixty years; but there I stood in front of this near replica–a playhouse today, a theater–and what came back more clearly than anything was one dark night of naughty fun.
O, Lord, what a woeful Calvinist I am.
It makes me smile yet–old Oostburg CRC so long ago, that night just as much a playhouse. I don’t doubt for a moment that even though it wasn’t a Sunday morning, even though there was no dominie up front in black suit and tie, no organist at the console, and no forest of legs beneath the pews, all during that night in the slippery darkness, the Lord God almighty was there too, in his holy temple.
Maybe even smiling.