“Woe to them who, at the last day, are caught un-repentant,” said the preacher, standing within the pulpit’s embrace. He was nearing the end of the sermon, and the closer he got, the louder he preached.
“All ye,” he began and paused.
Me and my brother jerked up our heads. We knew what was coming. The stern preacher would sweep his searching eyes from one side of the church to the other.
Once his eyes passed over us, we bowed our heads to play tic-tac-toe. Then the preacher continued his hell-fire-and-brimstone sermon.
I scratched in the third x. “I won.” I grinned.
“You cheated,” said my brother, yanking the thin sleeve of my yellow dress. “You marked that x when I wasn’t looking.”
Our ears jumped. We dropped our pencils, which rolled to the back of the wooden pew. Our scrap of paper fluttered off the hymnal onto the polished pine floor. When Mom snapped her fingers, we knew she was nearing the far end of her patience. Her patience ended with the razor strop hanging on the kitchen wall. We came to attention real quick.
She and the stern preacher, our dad, made for a perfect set. In church, we wouldn’t get much leeway from either of them. But afterwards, we’d be “set-free,” escape out the double doors, race down the steps of the front porch, and scatter out on the front yard to play tag with the other kids.
The church resembled a scene you’d find on a post card. It sat in a clearing on a Kentucky knob with a backdrop of wildflowers: purple iris, black-eyed susan, buttercup, and others in every color, nature’s perfume floating on the breeze. Behind them, a green congregation climbed up to the blue heavens.
Inside the double doors, a vestibule led into the sanctuary. Stain-glass windows lined the east and west sides of the room through which the morning sun and the evening sunset streamed. Its rays reflected the stain-glass shapes, glowing shades of sapphire, ruby, gold, and emerald, onto the faces of worshippers; loveliness on saints in praise and eerie misery on those caught in their transgressions by the preacher’s sweeping eyes.
The platform held a piano on one side and an organ on the other. In-between them, a lighted cross looked down into the baptistery. The pulpit stood centered at the front of the platform. That way, the preacher could glare equally at both sides of the aisle.
The pulpit was a masterpiece. Artisans had taken a log and removed a half- moon section. In front, they’d carved exquisite swirling cords, like a ballerina’s poised back and shoulders, and formed graceful arms curving toward the hollowed center. Below the shoulders, vertical staffs stood tall and strong on a mitered base. The pulpit had been sanded satin-smooth and stained a rich mahogany; a log transformed. Decades of godly hands polishing with lemon-scented oil had anointed it with a glow.
Outside the pulpit, Dad was kind of shy around folks. But he loved to tell jokes and kid around with close friends and family. He did normal dad stuff during the week. He barbered, taught us how to ride a pony, and cooked the best soup beans and cornbread in the country.
Of Irish/Scot descent, his frame was small. But on Sunday, when he stepped into the embrace of the pulpit, the Holy Spirit transformed Dad. His voice deepened, he grew taller and broader. His passion for Christ overcame his shyness. And he became a fiery Martin Luther.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t really pay attention to those changes in Dad. Church was church. My normal. But when I went away to college, I found that my normal was different from the other churches I attended. Not just the preaching. Some were quiet and reserved, others were more exuberant. Some only sang hymns, others only contemporary songs. Some large, others small.
Later, I married and moved north to even more variety. Along the way, I gathered my worship experiences and stored them alongside my childhood memories. As I look back, I realize just how special – how precious – is my heritage.
Though many churches have exchanged their hymnals for video screens, their pews for padded theater chairs, and their pulpits for podiums, one characteristic remains the same. When a mere man or woman, appointed by God, steps up to the stand, the Holy Spirit transforms them into preachers.
Just like my dad.
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