When I was a kid I always looked forward to Easter. Easter to me meant an Easter Basket which usually would contain my favorite seasonal candies and at least one small to medium toy that I had been wanting. It was like a very early Christmas stocking in many ways. Easter also meant getting dressed up in nice clothes and going to church and Sunday school after which I would come back home and the family would all gather for an Easter Egg hunt. I was never very good at finding the eggs, but I always enjoyed it anyway. The eggs would contain candies, small toys, or sometimes money. Of course by money I mean a few pennies, a nickel, a dime, or maybe a quarter. I don’t recall the eggs ever having anything larger than a quarter. A dollar bill in those days would have been like a kid today finding a fifty or a hundred. A dollar would buy a comic, a slurpee, and a candy bar. That was a full meal for a kid.
I looked forward to Easter Sunday just like I looked forward to Christmas. I know a lot of kids might have frowned on getting dressed up and going to church, but I enjoyed that part as well. I was in awe of our church’s minister, Rev. John Shadburn. Rev. Shadburn made all the kids feel special and when he smiled at you and spoke to you, he perfectly encapsulated what God’s love meant to a kid. I was so thrilled with Rev. Shadburn and the church at the time that many people assumed I would likely grow up to be a minister as well. Of course the Methodist church doesn’t like to leave a minister in the same church for very long and Rev. Shadburn soon departed St. Paul’s, replaced by Rev. Arnold Belcher. Rev. Belcher was a fine preacher, but he was not the boisterous, larger than life personality that Rev. Shadburn was in my eyes. And where I was favored by Rev. Shadburn, other children were favored slightly by Rev. Belcher. I wasn’t ignored, or shunned, or treated badly. I just wasn’t made to feel as special as Rev. Shadburn made me feel.
I began to lose interest in the church and soon Mom and I quit attending on a weekly basis. Years later after I had graduated and moved away, Mom started going back to St. Paul’s on a regular basis. She had always kept in contact with the church and remained a member of their women’s group. With me gone and living away, she had more time and became a more active member of the church once again. The church had been through a few different preachers since I left, and they had one that Mom truly enjoyed. Rev. Frank Shomo had breathed new life into the church. He had a special children’s sermon each week as well as the sermon geared for the adults. He welcomed everyone and he understood what Rev. Shadburn had known. You have to make the children love coming to church in order for them to hear the message of the church. He also seemed to understand that the young adults and teens were important as well. Where the church let me slip away as a teenager, Rev. Shomo kept his teens and young adults engaged. He understood that these were the people who were starting out in to the world or in the case of the older ones, starting their own families. If you lost them, you also lost the next generation. But Rev. Shomo didn’t forget about the older members either. He respected the elders of the church and celebrated every day that they were still with the church. He was an amazing minister, and he even managed to lure me back into the church to the delight of my mom.
But, as they say, all good things must end. Rev. Shomo was moved to a different church by the Methodist leadership. I also moved to a city 30 miles away from St. Paul’s. I could have used the help of my church family in moving, but no one stepped up and volunteered. My mother fell and broke her hip. She was unable to attend church or the meetings of the women’s group. The church responded by essentially forgetting about my mom except to remind her that her yearly tithed offering was not up to date. No one visited her, and only a couple of the women even called her. The new minister didn’t step up either.
I tried a new church in the town I moved to and was greatly disappointed. There was no children’s program, no youth program, no young adult program. There was nothing to make me look forward to being with these people every Sunday morning, and even less reason for my young children to want to be there. St’ Paul’s never called or wrote to ask me how I was doing either. The last contact I had with St. Paul’s was when I stopped there one Saturday morning for a rummage sale. I bought a few items and my wife and I noticed another item we were going to purchase, but we didn’t have the cash on us. I asked if they would take a check. They very firmly told me no. I am still on the books as a member of the church, but apparently membership does not have its privileges.
I have heard several news reports lately about how the church is losing members left and right. How young people don’t relate to the church and the church’s teaching on homosexuality and other issues. I hear the church complaining about how it is portrayed in the media and blaming that on the declining numbers, and I can’t help but think that they’ve got it all wrong. The people didn’t just give up on the church. The church forgot about taking care of their people.