Sitting Too Close to the Preacher.

After the Palm Sunday church service, our Pastor summoned me to the front of the sanctuary before we left.

Our church is continuing to practice social distancing and masks in an effort to protect everyone as more people get vaccinated. We have marked off every other pew with home-made quilts. They are beautiful to look at and serving an important function.

The very front 4 pews have been blocked off with quilts because the minister removes his mask when he is speaking. This provides some distancing from him, but it really cuts out a lot of seating capacity.

The Pastor told me that he thought we could open up one of the pews down front and asked if Andrea and I would mind sitting there. He said he knew we’d been vaccinated already and we usually sat near the front anyway.

Andrea laughed and said that we always seemed to sit near the front because it was my upbringing. The Pastor laughingly said thats right, you probably sat down front growing up, because you were a preachers kid and your dad wanted to keep an eye on you.

I told him yes, but it was so Mom could watch us from the choir. She was the one we were scared would catch us misbehaving.

The Pastor then told us he’d heard a story about a minister telling his kids, in the middle of his sermon, that they would get in trouble if they didn’t settle down. I chuckled and told him I knew just how they felt.

Sometimes things happen when you’re sitting too close to the preacher and can’t help but get caught.

This exchange got me to reflecting on the past…

You always take a chance when you leave a preachers kid unsupervised at a public church function. Sometimes things happen because the preachers kid is just being a kid and sometimes it’s because they are being mischevious on purpose.

My favorite story of a preachers kid just being a kid while unsupervised comes from one of my big sisters. If I remember the story right, it went something like this:

On this particular day Dad had a funeral and graveside service to hold. It was a school day so the rest of the family was in school. My sister, however, was at home that day due to a minor illness. She, therfore, ended up riding to the graveside with Dad and Mom. They decided to leave her in the car since it was very close to the grave.

Midway through the graveside service Mary got bored and decided to play with the steering wheel of the car. She pretended to be driving and steering the car. Of course the next thing she began to do was honk the car horn. She was steering this way and that, while simultaneously laying into that loud car horn to get the drivers out of her way.

The grief-stricken family and all the mourners looked over to find the cause of this pandamonium. The quiet reverence of the graveside service was completely disrupted by the car horn loudly honking over and over. Worse yet… was coming from the preachers car.

In complete panic, Mom sprinted back to the car and threw open the door. She’d do just about anything to get that child off the horn.

She was just doing what kids do in a car when they are little, but that didn’t save Mary from the “justice” dispensed by Mom.

Then there was the more intentional preachers kid situation, where I should have known better.

When I was about 10 years old, we lived in Girard, Kansas. Dad served in the United Methodist congregations of Girard and Farlington. We lived in the parsonage which was next door to the Girard church.

In thinking back to those times, I think I was trying to do one thing, most of the time. That was to get attention from my parents. Their attention and efforts were always in the church.

I do remember that my hair was longer than it is now. It was down over my ears. I needed a haircut.

I sat in the second pew right down front where Mom could watch me from the choir. I remember sitting there and being bored. I wanted to get up and move around, but Mom was watching me like a hawk. About the time dad started his sermon, I was getting very itchy to move or do something. I began shaking my heaed side-to-side. I found that my hair had gotten just long enough to where it would cover my face as I shook it.

It wasn’t much, but for a 10 year old boy, it was better than dying from sitting still. When you are a 10 year old boy you are convinced that being made to sit still is a major cause of death. In addition it was getting late in the morning and I was beginning to get hungry.

On a conscious level I wasn’t aware that my head shaking was being noticed by anyone, but apparently it was. Out of the blue Dad suddenly stopped his sermon mid-sentence and looked directly down at me.

In his best sermon-preaching voice he said “John, you need to stop shaking your head and you need to go in the vestibule and stay until the service is done”. I was suddenly in the spotlight and had caused Dad to interrupt his sermon in front of the entire congregation. This was the absolute worst thing a preachers kid could do.

I had embarrassed Dad in front of the people so badly that he had to stop and tell me to leave. If it had been anyone else’s child he would have just laughed it off and said kids will be kids and Jesus said let the children come forward.

I had definitely achieved the goal of getting my parents attention. The problem was that it was in the worst manner possible. I had embarrassed him in front of everyone.

I was completely shocked, surprised, and embarrassed as I looked up at Dad who was sternly looking down at me.

I stood up and with my head looking down, I meekly walked across the sanctuary and out the back door into the adjoining vestibule. I sat down on the stairs which led to the balcony.

I sat there and considered my fate. Much like a condemned prisoner awaiting his sentence to be pronounced. I knew that shortly after the service, I would face…….. MOTHER…….

She was the judge, jury, and executioner at our house. I had not only embarrassed Dad, but also Mom, and Mom was the one who dispensed justice. Dad rarely spanked or gave out punishments. That was Moms area of expertise and she could wield a ruler, board, or even a stick like a Jedi Master.

I sat there listening to the service and knowing that as each item ticked by, my punishment got closer. Sermon……final hymn……Benediction…. and finally….everyone was leaving.

I waited as the people got up and left. They slowly filed out and shook hands with Mom and Dad at the door. Of course everyone had witnessed what happened. I’m sure Mom and Dad got a few comments about it as everyone filed out.

Finally, after several minutes, the church quieted down as the last people left. The only thing left was the emptiness of an old building.

My heart skipped a beat as the adrenaline began to overcome me with anticipation.

I then heard the distinctive footsteps of Mom walking across the creaky wooden floor. She came into the room with a frown on her face. She looked at me and sternly said that I’d really embarrassed Dad. She then grabbed me by the arm and spun me around. I got several quick smacks with her hand across my back side. The spanking didn’t physically hurt as much as the injury to my feelings. I think Mom was fully aware of this and that was ok. She was trying to make a point.

She was successful, because I never shook my head in church again.

Of course I was also sentenced to banishment. I was forced to get up early and go with Dad to Farlington for the service in that small town about 6 miles away.

I guess that was one of the advantages of having two churches to choose from. If your kid screwed up in one, you could make him disappear by sending him to the other.

I have continued to sit down front in church since then. I think I probably annoyed or embarrassed my Dad many times after that. I’ve probably annoyed or embarrassed other ministers over the years.

It’s just that now I have the wisdom, thanks to Mom, not to do it when I’m sitting too close to the Preacher.

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.

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