Some people have memories that seal their happy relationship with The Church – and God – like super glue. And, of course, other people have church memories that are viscerally painful and forever distance them from a given congregation – and God.
This article about how the brain stores trivial memories is very interesting.
Among the trivial memories in my own brain:
- The last thing my Dad ate on this earth was a forkful of yellow cake with chocolate frosting. (We knew he was dying when he didn’t want the whole piece. Just a taste.)
- TBC’s childhood bedroom had a Hey Diddle Diddle wallpaper border.
- The first towels I ever bought for myself were lime green.
Trivial church memories can become profound:
- My kids remember watching a church elder spill a whole cup of coffee, glance around the room to see if anybody was looking, and then walk away without cleaning up the mess.
- They also remember how good Mrs. H. smelled every Sunday morning when she hugged them.
- I remember my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. G. telling us that she’d been the Maid of Cotton.
- I remember the taste of Welch’s grape juice at VBS when I was six or seven, and being told, “This is what communion juice tastes like.” (I subsequently Could Not Wait until I could be confirmed and have that juice during worship one day.)
I remember when a new member left our church because she heard two church ladies talking about a third church lady in the women’s bathroom after Coffee Hour.
I remember the parishioner who told me that she “hated the Presbytery” because “they” wouldn’t let them have the minister they wanted. “When was that?” I asked her. “In the 70’s,” she said.
“What do you remember about Rev. ___’s ministry?” I asked a group of church people at a retreat. “He once said ‘damn’ in the pulpit,” was the first response.
Yes, we who spend our lives writing sermons, teaching classes, praying at bedsides, and sitting through countless meetings to plan, budget, decide, and ponder take our ministry very seriously. But maybe it’s the trivial that most people will remember.
How are we creating memories in our spiritual communities? This question could change everything in our church leadership.
Instead of spending the majority of time in meetings talking about ceiling cracks and boiler replacement, what if we looked at the decisions to be made as opportunities to Create Spiritual Memories?
- The smell of the communion bread.
- The red balloons at Pentecost.
- The way we smile and ask, “How are you doing?” – even to children – when we serve refreshments after worship.
- The way we look into each other’s eyes during the passing of the peace.
- The home-y feeling of the church parlor.
- The way kids run down the aisle to hear “The Children’s Message” (and it makes the grown ups smile rather than scowl.)
- The way a church gentleman – who is not your grandfather but could be – helps a single mom put snow boots on her children as they prepare to leave the building.
- The way a young parent intentionally sits with an elderly widow and teaches her child to say, “Good morning, Mrs. M. You look pretty today.“
- The way the home bound C. telephones other home bound ladies to check on them each morning.
This is church. And church is often how we first learn what God is like – for better or for worse.