Home Training

Mama sometimes stayed home from church on Sunday, saying, "I can worship God just fine right here in the kitchen while I fix Sunday dinner." This was a radical thing to do in our tight-knit Baptist church community, where staying home from church meant you were sick, maybe even in the hospital. It was even more radical for the wife of a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and lay minister to do such a thing. My two sisters and I never thought to question going to church and knew that whatever Mama did we were going with Daddy.

The house smelled good with dinner when we got home, and I remember Mama asking Daddy, "Well sir, what did the good man preach on this Sunday?" And with stern face and tone of voice he would answer, "Sin, woman, sin."

Then she would reply with a smile on her face and a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "Was he fer or agin it?"

Mama and daddy both grew up with the fine tradition of Southern storytelling and did their part to pass it on to us. Sometimes when Daddy was telling a story, Mama would correct him on a point of fact. He would say, "Now it’s my lie, and I’ll tell it my way." She would gasp, "Edward, the children," and we would laugh.

These are vivid memories of childhood and formed the foundation of my early religious education. Our church home was West Asheville Baptist Church, and we were there for Sunday school and worship service on Sunday mornings, Baptist Training Union on Sunday nights, prayer meetings on Wednesday evenings, and an afternoon choir practice. We memorized the books of the Bible and many stories and Bible verses. I especially liked competing in "sword drills," where we would stand at attention with a Bible (our Christian sword). The leader would call, "Attention, draw swords," and we would hold the Bible in front of us with left hand on top, right on the bottom. The leader would then call out a scripture reference. The first person to find the right verse would step forward and read it aloud. And win!

It has taken me many years to understand how this combination of intense and strict religious instruction, combined with loving parents who could laugh and joke with irreverence at the very church they supported, helped lead me to Quakers. You can worship God by yourself in your kitchen fixing dinner or anytime, anywhere; you don’t have to be in church. The subject of sin was serious, and the preacher given high praise, but neither was off-limits for jokes. And authority could be questioned.