Growing up as a preacher’s kid in the Church of the Nazarene, Wednesday night prayer meetings were a regular stop on my Generation X childhood. It’s because of this that a huge piece is missing from my cultural memoir: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, which were televised on Wednesday nights.
My father pastored small, rural churches, and in any given church, in any given town, 40 people showed up for church on Sundays and a walloping seven on Wednesday nights. This included my father, my mother and me. That left four people, including the pianist, scattered about a church that could seat 200.
I liked going to church because I loved pleasing my father, but honestly, it could be pretty boring for a young girl. Sitting in the pew, I’d pretend to pay attention to his sermons while I found ways to entertain myself. I’d draw pictures on offering envelopes; make all kinds of lists and play word games with hymns. I’d flip through all 300-plus pages of Praise and Worship or Worship in Song, putting the phrase “under the covers” after all the titles. It worked like this:
Just As I Am under the covers.
Joy Unspeakable under the covers.
How Great Thou Art under the covers.
Love Lifted Me under the covers.
One Wednesday night while doing this, I laughed out loud. My father stopped right in the middle of his sermon and said, “Jenni, do you care to share with the rest of us what is so funny?”
I have always had an uncontrollable giggle box. Once, when I attended a funeral of a high school classmate, I couldn’t stop laughing, even though I was terribly shaken by the loss. You see, someone at the funeral was wearing a wig and it was falling off.
And then there was the time during a revival at our church. It was 1977 and the evangelist’s wife, with her cat eye glasses, sang a special. Her voice was so nasally and falsetto, I had to run to the bathroom to keep from cracking up. I was 10. Later, I told everyone I had to throw up, but the truth is I locked myself in the tiny bathroom and laughed and laughed and laughed. Even when I returned to the sanctuary I was still laughing.
Another time, during a Wednesday night prayer meeting, my dad had everyone kneel in the pews to pray. During the prayer, my brother and I were looking under the pews at all the ladies’ legs. One lady had on two different shoes, a red one and a blue one. My brother and I laughed so hard, we were crying. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we later realized that she was not wearing two different shoes, but a matching pair with a split vamp featuring red and blue. As she knelt we saw the red side of one shoe and the blue side of another.
All of this says nothing of the times I tried to pass away time in the pews by looking for the juicier parts of Song of Solomon. There aren’t that many, you know.
Looking back, I’m certain I got a lot out of those Wednesday nights. I sang all those hymns about galling fetters rent in twain and my soul being hid in the cleft of a rock (what?), and by the age of nine, I’d developed a gargantuan vocabulary. No wonder I wanted to be a writer.
I also picked up an awful lot of what my father had to say, and of course, all those hymns became prayers. I figured it up one day, by the age of 17, I’d sung 10,000 hymns. Somewhere along the way, I started believing them, and as it turns out, God took me seriously, like when I sang this:
It may not be on the mountain’s height,
or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front
my Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls
to paths I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Yours,
I’ll go where You want me to go.
At some point, I stopped laughing in church. Maybe it’s not such a good thing. In fact, for all the times I’ve sat in pews in more recent years, hoping to catch a glimpse of God, I think God has been searching for a glimpse of me – so we can laugh together again like we did when I was a kid.