Sunday mornings usually seemed like a lot of fun back in the late ‘50’s. There were always plenty of kids heading into the church basement at the Wilroads Gardens Christian Church on Sunday mornings. Noisily we would tromp down the creaking steps into the dimly lit basement and find our seats on little folding, wooden chairs set in relaxed rows facing a slightly out of tune piano. And one Sunday in particular I remember vividly.
A brave soul, a nice looking young lady with alternating smiles and looks of consternation sternly guided the horde of primary grade school aged kids to our seats. An older lady with frazzled looking hair and a wrinkled dress sat down at the piano and the frowning/smiling lady cheerfully greeted us.
“Good morning boys and girls! Are you ready to sing some songs and praise the Lord?”
“Yay!” we cheered. The needing to be tuned piano sounded the beginning chord and the smiling lady led us through a number of fast paced Sunday School songs, complete with actions and alternating sitting and standing. We stood in front of our little, folding, wooden chairs, not so very still and did the actions as we sang Deep and Wide, The Wise Man, Do Lord , Give Me Oil In My Lamp and Praise Ye The Lord.
Our singing was coming to a loud crescendo as we finished Fire Up! Our song leader nervously looked towards the stairs with concern as though she was expecting someone to descend from upstairs as our youthful exuberance and excitement reached a feverish pitch.
“Now…boys and girls…” Our leader said trying to calm us down with a slower song. “Let’s sing Jesus Loves Me.” But we shouted our way through that song. And the next, Jesus Loves the Little Children. Our sputtering song leader looked with exasperation at the lady at the piano.
“What’s left?” She asked.
“Read Your Bible, Pray Every Day.” The piano playing lady answered with a shrug. The song leader nodded and motioned with her hands for us to sit down.
“Now I know we’re having lots of fun this morning. But as we sing this last song, let’s think about the words and not get carried away… Okay boys?” She finished with a not so confident smile. I looked at Johnny and Tommy and we nodded at each other. We liked this song.
We began singing in a loud but dignified manner:
Read your Bible, pray every day, pray every day, pray every day.
Read your Bible, pray every day, pray every day, pray every day…
And then we got down on our knees with our hands almost touching the painted cement floor of the church basement.
And you’ll grow, grow, grow. And you’ll grow, grow, grow.
Our hands were now at our waists as we stood and kept singing, with our hands reaching higher.
Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.
Second verse, same as the first; I saw Johnny stepping up on his folding wooden chair. Tommy did the same and I decided it was a good idea. As I looked around several of us boys stood on our chairs, raising our hands each time we sang the word, ‘grow’.
The girls eyed the boys standing on their chairs and kept singing. Towards the end of the third verse I was reaching as high as I could and out of the corner of my eye I saw Johnny inch backwards on his little, folding, wooden chair and then…CRACK! And Johnny let out a scream as his chair folded around his knees and seemed to swallow him whole.
“Boys!” Our song leader screamed. But she was too late. Several chairs cracked and swallowed several boys who were standing on top of the chair. “Get down!”
Not wanting to disobey an adult I shifted my feet to step off my chair but I stepped too close to the back and in slow motion my chair opened up, leaving me hanging in mid-air – just like a cartoon, I thought. Then as my legs fell through the chair it slammed shut, barking my shins.
The basement was now in full chaos with shouts and screams as the kids jumped out of the way of the falling boys and clapping chairs. Several mothers having heard the cries of sweet, suffering, innocent children came running down the steps just as my older brother made his way across the bedlam and pulled me out from my boy-eating, folding chair. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think. Did you see that?”
“Yeah,” he said before he disappeared in the crowd.
Sniffling I stood up and rubbed my shins and made my way to my Sunday School class table in the corner where I sat down between Johnny and Tommy. “Hey,” Johnny said with red face and red eyes. “Next time we sing that we can go up the steps.”
“Hey, yeah!” Tommy nodded with excitement as he looked at his torn pant leg.
But I just sat very still on my folding, wooden chair, rubbing my shins.
…they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so… Acts 17.11 NABS