Don’t Make Me Come Down There!

The preachers kid is an expert in sign language and non-verbal communication. They spend most of their time in the public eye which forces their parents to communicate non-verbally. Unfortunately, the signals may be ignored and disaster results…..painfully.

My earliest memories of this ability were in the White City United Methodist Church. I was about 6 and my little sister was 5. My older sister was in the choir, along with mom. Dad, was preaching so he was sitting next to the pulpit.

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After finishing Sunday School, we would go into the sanctuary for the morning church service. White City had recently remodeled the sanctuary with new pews that had cushioned seats. They had also refinished the hardwood floors which turned out beautiful. The aisles and the pulpit area were all re-carpeted. It really was nice.

Sundays were busy because Dad had to do the early service at Wilsey, which was a smaller church in a nearby town. Mom, probably was busier. She had to make sure all the kids were up and had breakfast. She then had to make sure we were all wearing our Sunday clothes. At our house, it was not accceptable to wear jeans or a t-shirt to Sunday School or Church. We had to wear dress shoes, nice slacks, and a collared shirt.

Mom, had to go through all the work of fixing her hair, wearing a dress, and all the other requirements of dressing up for church. Normally, she was also concerned with getting part of Sunday lunch ready before church.

Mom was old-school… strict. The worst thing that could happen would be for the family to reflect badly upon Dad. It was Mom’s mission to make sure that Dad could lead the service without the family being noticed.

On one particular sunny morning we were starting the morning church service. The sun was bright and shined through the large stained glass windows of the sanctuary. The people began to take their seats in the sanctuary as the organist began to play the prelude.

My little sister, Von, and I took our places in the third pew from the front. This put us right down front where Mom would have a complete view of our activities.

As the service began, the choir came in and took their seats in the choir loft. There was Mom in the choir, right on the front row.

Mom wasn’t stupid. She knew that letting two little kids sit by themselves in church, even when watched by her, was a recipe for disaster. Sometimes there were friends with parents we might sit beside or a relative to sit with, but this morning we ended up by ourselves.

As the service began I could see mom giving us the eye. She had a well-developed skill of singing hymns or doing the responsive reading while looking over the edge of the hymnal at us.

After about 10 minutes the pressure began to build. Here you had a 6 year old boy sitting with no adult within arms reach, in front of a bunch of people, and the intense pressure to behave.

It was a situation which I was keenly aware of and as a 6 year old boy had only one way to cope……..

It began with me scooching over to where I was sitting right up against my sister. I was in her personal space. Von pushed me away and then swiveled with her legs toward me. She then began pushing against me with her legs. On those nice new pew cushions, she was able to push me away because they were slick. Of course this was being done while wearing a dress, which meant it wasn’t the most complimentary scene since her skirt would ride up. Of course it didn’t matter because we were just little kids, but to Mom it was very bad. Her children were misbehaving in front of the whole congregation. To Mom, you’d have thought we’d broke out a stripper pole and began to spin and dance on it.

I looked up at Mom and there was a very grim and pained look on her face. Simultaneously, she held up one finger and pointed sideways. In the “International Preachers Kid Sign Language Manual”, 75th Edition, these signals meant: “John move away from your sister right now and leave her alone”. The look on her face told me that I was embarrassing her and father. The stern pursed look of her face also told me that if she had to come down there my life would be in danger.

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Even at this young age I was very familiar with the sign language manual and got her message clearly.

So I sat in the middle of the pew with Von at the end. It was getting a little boring for me. I would stand up when we sang hymns and tried to sit still otherwise, but I was only human.

After a few minutes I decided that since I couldn’t get close to Von, I could bother her by throwing pieces of the church bulletin at her. She of course threw them back. Some hit her, but some went flying past her into the center aisle. The people sitting behind us could see these small pieces of wadded up paper fly in a long arc from me to my sister at the end of the pew. Then they would see them fly back.

At that point I looked up at Mom….

She had her finger pointing at me from under the hymnal she held. I could see her hand tightly clinched and she was shaking it at me in anger. Her face was no longer in a stern pursed position, but she was now mouthing words. It was during a silent prayer, so she was hoping most people would not see her. Based on her looks and actions, I was pretty sure she was telling me to knock it off, “Don’t you dare make me come out of this choir loft or you will face my wrath!”

This got my attention because she didn’t usually have to mouth words to get her point across. So I sat there and tried to sit still. I pulled out a pencil and began to draw pictures on my bulletin. I was doing pretty good until about the time of the sermon.

It was at this point that I dropped my pencil on the floor. Since the floor under the pews was a nice hardwood floor, the pencil rolled forward under the two pews in front of us.

I looked around and couldn’t find a different pencil. I knew from experience that Dad’s sermon would take a while, so I did the logical thing.

I dropped off the pew and onto the floor. The nice new hardwood floor was shiny and slick, so I was able to slide on my side and back under the pews. I would push with the heels of my shoes and those nice Sunday clothes were slick, so I slid very easlily down to the front pew where I retrieved my pencil.

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Of course all this was taking place with Dad standing at the pulpit directly in front and above me. Mom also could see this calamity under the pews taking place. She looked over at Dad who gave her the “What in the Wide World of Sports is that Child Doing?!” face.

Things seemed to be going pretty well. I had retrieved my pencil and turned around. I then began scooching under the pews back to my seat, but as I got to my pew, I realized this was sort of fun. It was much better than sitting there through the sermon.

I thought that since I was on the floor, I was out of view and sort of invisible to everyone else. The reality was that EVERYONE noticed the preachers kid was sliding around on the floor under the pews during the sermon!

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I was oblivious and continued to enjoy my new found game. In fact, I slid past my own pew and made it to an occupied pew. I looked up at the adults and smiled as the stunned adults looked down at me in disbelief. All they saw was this little face sticking out from under the pew in front of them.

I then turned back and slid toward my own pew. As I stood up to sit back down in my pew, I was suddenly grabbed by the arm.

My first view was that of a choir robe and the hand which extended out of it gripping me so hard that I was lifted off my feet.

As Mom drug me up the side aisle and out the front door I don’t think I ever touched the floor. The sun was shining very brightly as we went out the door onto the front steps of the church. At that point Mom unleashed her pent up frustration and anger.

At our house we never talked about the devil. It was fully understood that if we screwed up it was our fault and no one else’s. Mom unleashed a world class spanking at that point. Thankfully she didn’t have a board, stick, switch, ruler or wooden spoon. Bare-handed was bad enough.

The good part was that once the punishment was over, it was done. I was sent back to the parsonage next door since church was ending. Mom had to stand at the front door with Dad and shake everyones hand as they left. This meant that she would have the embarrassment of explaing to folks whether I was still alive.

There’d be other adventures, obviously, but I never slid under the pews again during church.

As I got older I would continue to benefit from that “International Preachers Kid Sign Language Manual”, 75th Edition. I never saw Mom workout or lift weights, but goodness, she had a powerful right arm.


Published by John Purvis

I was born and raised in Kansas as part of a family of 7 children. My father was a minister in the United Methodist Church for 50 years. We moved, consequently, every few years to a new church. Each new location became a new chapter in the journey. I have had the privilege of knowing so many different people from varying backgrounds. I wanted to share some of the stories and adventures I have had.

15 thoughts on “Don’t Make Me Come Down There!

  1. John, once again I can’t stop laughing! My twin and I scooted under pews….once. My friend got carried away, about the age you were, and yelled “pray for me!” to the entire congregation! Grandpa, who’d be 110 if alive, would’ve lit a fire under us just like the fire and brimstone he warned everyone about! I love your stories. I can relate to them so well! You’re a wonderful writer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhh….those Sunday morning services! Mom was the organist – faced the congregation- and I can relate! Although Dad was usually there he wasn’t always attentive during service (often would nod off) and Mom would “control “ our behavior in that special nonverbal disciplinary universal language of scowls & finger wagging!

    Liked by 1 person

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