The first time I remember going to church was when I was four. I waited to get in the car, excited because my mother had gotten me all dressed up in a velvet dress with ballerina tights and patent leather shoes, and even white gloves like she had on. My parents acted very serious, so it was important to me, too. The next thing I knew I was looking up at a huge gray stone building, walking up broad steps to tall red doors, holding onto my father’s hand, my other hand gripping the cold black railing because people were all around us to go through the doors too, and it was a crowd, and crowds were new to me, so I was afraid of getting lost. I looked up at the church with its dark slate roof and tarnished copper gutters, and the bell in the steeple was ringing, ringing, ringing.
Cold wind braced my cheeks as I watched the bell swing against deep blue sky, and father jerked my hand to follow, mother holding my baby brother Jay just behind us. Thigh-high in a moving stream of wool-coated bodies, if it weren’t for my father I thought I would be trampled. Without even a look goodbye, my mother went with the crowd as father pulled me along to the left. I wondered why we weren’t going with everyone else as we went through a second set of doors with the same rounded shape at the top, but black. Still holding his hand, we entered a large hall. Sunshine through stained glass windows made jewel-colored shapes on the black and white checkered floor, and the vaulted ceiling made it expansive, and I instantly felt more relaxed. There were not a lot of people there; all I saw were children.
Then a woman in a long dress like from a picture book came up to us and father said “This is Miss Elsie, the children’s choir director. You’re going to sing with her.” I smiled, looking up at her face. She looked so kind, and told me that my father led the adult choir and she taught the children, did I like to sing? I’ll never forget how warm she was, she smiled with her eyes. I immediately loved her. My father told me he was leaving me there; he had to take the adult choir into church. Even though it was all new to me, I wasn’t afraid at all.
Suddenly I had a long dress on over my clothes that looked like Miss Elsie’s. The doors were closed, and no one else was coming in. It got quiet. It was cold in there, but I didn’t feel cold at all. She lined us up in two rows; I was right of center front, facing her. A paper was in my hand, with writing, shapes and lines, and in just that one morning I learned what notes meant and how to read music. It was easy for me and I didn’t know what natural pitch was yet, but I had it. We sang a song a few times, Miss Elsie singing with us, making eye contact, encouraging us and correcting, and it felt so good; so natural. I didn’t know this was what was going to happen before ‘getting dressed up to go to church’!
The song we sang must have become good enough, because she didn’t ask us to keep singing it, and she lined us up in two rows again at the black double door. I was in the front, on the right. Miss Elsie held two large books behind arms folded across her chest, focusing her attention toward the direction the crowd had gone. Then I heard a deep, beautiful sound like a wave against my chest that called me, and Miss Elsie opened the door as if following it and we children followed her like baby chicks walking into sounds and sights right down the middle of standing people holding books and singing, and we were singing, and I looked up and way up high on the wall in the front was a man with long brown hair and a beard standing in the clouds barefoot, wearing a long blue robe (kind of like mine, but one color), with his hands outstretched, and holes with blood in his palms and on the top of his feet, and it was Jesus, and it was the happiest moment of my life.
“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”, Christ said. I am blessed to know how true it is.