In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number eight–to a Sunday school teacher from my childhood.
I had lots of different teachers when I was at Five Points Missionary Baptist Church in Wilson, NC–Marilyn Thompson, Judy Earp, Allegra Poole–and they all play active roles in the memories of my childhood. So, I don’t know exactly why it is that Elaine Hill managed to become the icon for all of those wonderful church leaders; but when I think back on my years at Five Points church, it’s her face that often comes to mind. This thank you note is to her.
Dear Mrs. Hill,
Do you remember when you were the director of the children’s department at Five Points back in . . . I guess maybe 1972ish? We were up in those classrooms that must have been just under the steeple. We climbed about a thousand steps to get up there, took a right at the top of the stairs, and there you were, week after week, waiting on us–usually by the upright piano situated up front, its back flat against the wall. That piano was a classic. It was painted a kind of minty green. Or maybe the color was more of a faded iceberg lettuce hue. Hard to say.
Anyway, as Sunday Morning Assembly began, you’d take your seat on the piano stool–it was one of those round, adjustable ones with the claw feet. Remember? You’d select a morning hymn or maybe one of the popular tunes in Sing ‘n’ Celebrate. Your glasses perched on your nose, you’d smooth out the pages, position your fingers on the keyboard, and then look back over your shoulder at us. “Boys and Girls, let us stand and sing our opening song.” You’d play a brief refrain, then with an energetic nod, you’d direct us to begin. I know we must have sounded amazing because you were always so delighted with us, smiling broadly even as you sang
It never once occured to me that you had a choice about whether or not you were the director of our Sunday school. You were just there. Always. Now, all grown up as I am, I know something of the sacrifices you made to be there for us. I know how hard it is to get young children out the door Sunday mornings; how much more so when the mommy has to be at church early. Thanks for taking all the extra time and effort to be wholly present with us each week. It mattered.
During the Assembly, from time to time, you talked about the importance of bringing an offering to church. You didn’t just talk about the money; you reminded us of other responsibilities. Holding up an offering envelope, you’d point out the boxes at the bottom: “Sunday School,” “Worship Attended,” “Bible Brought,” “Offering Brought.” (I always thought that last one was stupid because if you hadn’t brought an offering, would you seriously turn in an empty envelope?) You encouraged us to get in the habit of doing each of those things each week. Such good teaching! Of course I didn’t know it then, but you were placing cornerstones in our Christian formation. And for me at least, the foundation you helped to build has supported me through a lifetime of spiritual growth. Thank you.
I do have a confession to make, though. Before I explain, you should know that I have a thing for marking boxes. To this day, I’ve been known to add a task I’ve already completed to my to-do list, just to have the pleasure of checking it off the list. So, those little boxes on our offering envelopes? Real motivators for me. And most Sundays, I could mark every one. Almost. There was one that gave me trouble: “Bible Read Daily.” I’d inevitably miss at least one day during the week and there I’d be on Sunday morning, an empty, checkless box on my envelope and not one thing I could do about it.
Anyway, one morning, you were telling us how important it was to do just that: to read our Bibles daily. “All of these are important habits we should practice,” you told us, pointing to the boxes. “But none is more important than reading your Bible every day.” (Clearly, you were speaking directly to me.) One caveat before I go on: I admit, there’s a slight chance that the years have distorted my recollection of the moments that followed. You continued and as you did, the Light of the Lord shone down upon you, illuminating your next words as you spoke them. The voices in the room hushed; the fidgeting stopped. “Even if you just read one verse, that’s okay. You’re still reading God’s word daily.” Realization descended upon me on the wings of a dove as angels sung sweet hallelujahs. The answer to my nagging empty box problem! Sweet Salvation. Problem solved!
And that was it. For the rest of my tenure with those little offering envelopes, I could check off every box every week. I dutifully read one verse every day. I never lied. I told the God’s honest truth.
Except. The thing was, when you said we could just read one verse, you didn’t specify that we should read a different verse every night–mix it up a bit. You said, “One verse.” (Or maybe it was Jesus who said that; it was a high and holy moment, to be sure.) So, I read one verse, the same one, night after night after night. I pulled out my red faux leather Revised Standard Version, my name embossed in gold lettering on the front, and read John 11:35, also known as the shortest verse in the Bible.
Since I’m pretty sure this is NOT what you meant, you might want to adjust the record books accordingly. Just pull out the Sunday School Roll from about 1972 to 1976 and erase all those checks, okay? Great. Thanks.
Anyway, even though I missed the point you were trying to make about spiritual disciplines, I did get the most important message: Mrs. Hill loves me. Your laughter, your smile, your genuine interest in my life, all that added to an early understanding of the love of Jesus. Thank you Mrs. Hill. Thank you for teaching me so much about godliness and for modeling for me what it means to follow Jesus. I noticed, and I’m forever grateful.
May you continue to feel the presence of God in your life. May you be reminded of all the children who have been blessed by your godly obedience and your life of faith. And may you read your Bible daily–even if it’s just one verse.