It’s funny what you remember…
As some of you may know, I have belonged to First Christian Church in Baton Rouge for my whole life. That is certainly not to say that I have been a productive member for my whole life. There were plenty of years when church was not in my bailiwick, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that I have never belonged to or hardly ever attended any other church.
The name “First Christian” was problematic for me as a child when I told people that’s where I went to church. They would either say, “Oh yeah? All churches are Christian churches,” which tells you something about who I hung around with. Or they would get offended thinking the name meant we were somehow trying to be superior to other Christian churches. When I presented the dilemma to my parents, I was told that I could say we belonged to the Disciples of Christ Church. That was even worse because the word “disciples” was too hard to pronounce. I ended up not telling anybody where I went to church.
My earliest memory of worship was in the little red brick building on South Acadian Thruway, not far from the old Baton Rouge General Hospital. I remember there was a billboard for Triple A Cleaners directly across from the church on Acadian. It consisted of a motorized mother cat constantly licking her kittens. I suppose it was intended to represent what good care Triple A would take care of your clothes. I’m not sure how clean your clothes would be, but Triple A would love them dearly.
We parked at a nearby lot that is now an architect’s office. Crossing North Boulevard, my father would not hold my hand, he would hold the back of my neck. He was so tall and I was so little, it must have been easier for him to reach my neck. Plus, it gave him better control if I tried to make a break for it.
In Sunday School a beautiful, teenaged Gladys played the piano. She so impressed us little girls with her soft voice and elegant style. We belted out, “Yes Jesus loves me!” with reckless abandon. Some things never change.
Mrs. Hauptmann was our Sunday School teacher and Mr. Hauptmann was the Sunday School superintendent. He wore pink baby rosebuds in his lapel, year-round it seems. He was also in charge of handing out the much-coveted perfect attendance pins. The longer you could maintain an absence free record, the more ornate your pin became. I got up to an enameled white one.
We marveled at the coke machine in the fellowship area. You put in a nickel and turned a crank that looked like a piano pedal. Open a little elf-sized door and there would be your coke bottle.
The light fixtures in the sanctuary were flat round discs with a central globe hung from the ceiling on long wires. Staring at them gave me something to do during the long boring sermons. The lights became the planet Saturn with radiating rings or hovering UFOs. On less space-oriented days, they were inverted ladies’ hats. A timeless style.
The little brick building eventually became too small for our growing congregation of the 50s. To incite interest in a capital campaign, the church planners produced a scale model to show all the proposed buildings and how they would be placed on a two-and-a-half-acre lot on Old Hammond Highway. I was enchanted with the tiny trees and cars they placed around the miniature buildings. The concept was not an easy sell, since many thought the lot was too prone to flooding.
When the church moved to the present location in the 60s, we started out with just two buildings, the Fellowship Hall and the Baker Building. The Fellowship Hall served nobly as the sanctuary for many years. My father’s funeral and Paul’s and my wedding were among many sad and happy gatherings held there during that time. Over the years we have added structures to the campus so we now have all the buildings that were depicted on the model.
And what became of the little red church on Acadian Thruway? It lives on, currently housing the Mid-City Ballroom/Baton Rouge Music Exchange. There you will find live music performances, music lessons, and guitars and amps for sale. You can also rent the facility and have your graduation or birthday party in the old sanctuary. Those Saturn lights may even still be there.
My memories of church in the 50s are the fond, uncomplicated memories of a child, but they are also the memories that formed my faith foundation. Through them I have learned about joy and sorrow, peace and anguish, shared celebration and shared hope.
My prayer is that during these unsettled times, by God’s unfailing grace, He will lead us to new and better ways to worship, to serve and to share His love.
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the House of the Lord.’” – Psalm 122
Offered by Mary Thompson
Our devotionals are going out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, with an occasional lagniappe issue. Please look for these congregation devotionals in your email box at about 6:45 a.m.