When I was growing up as the son of a preacher man, the first Sunday of August marked the beginning of a new church year in our denomination. Over the course of 18 years at home, seven of those first Sundays in August were the first Sunday in a new church. Let me tell you that those first Sundays in a new church were scary. I never liked them. The preacher’s family is always in a fish bowl but never as much as that first Sunday when everyone is checking out the new preacher and his family. It was never a fun experience for me and perhaps one reason I am quite reserved in the beginning when I meet new people or I am in a new situation.
Kids are cruel and I have experienced that first hand in the church and before any first day in a new school. In many of these first Sundays I heard their unfiltered comments. “He’s ugly” or “He looks nerdy” were the ones that pierced my feelings the most. Yes, it was a cruel initiation at a new church. Unfortunately, if the parents didn’t like my dad being the pastor, the kids took it out on me. I was just part of the collateral damage to their dislike for him. It wasn’t always like this but I would say it happened more than not.
My dad pastored churches in Georgia. The worst memory of all was a small community in South Georgia named Axson. It wasn’t even a city but it has lasting injuries on my memories. My dad replaced a long-time pastor who was related to many of the members so that first Sunday was filled with people checking us out. This little community church had a lot of folks who were involved in tobacco farming which was a bit interesting since our church taught that smoking was a sin. Not sure how they worked all that out in their salvation but they were a tough bunch. The first Sunday I heard the kids’ cruel comments and their snickers as I would pass by. No one wanted to befriend me or even attempt to talk to me. I was an outsider and they were intent on keeping it that way. They made my life hell especially on the school bus where they would sit in the back of the bus and flip me off. I would have complained to the bus driver – and he did witness it – but he was related to them too. Yeah, some things you can’t forget – even 40 years or so later. Our time at this church didn’t last long as it became just too much to overcome the adversity.
So the first Sundays at a new church weren’t always a great experience and unfortunately the bad experiences burn into our memory more than the good ones but there were some good experiences. I remember two. The first Sundays in Villa Rica and Savannah were the best ones I have memories of. Both churches had teens that actually talked to me the first Sunday and included me as a part of their group. When I say teens I’m not talking about a huge megachurch. Back in those days and in the church I was a part of, a “big” church would be a congregation of 50 or more. Most were not. After the Axson experience, the young people at Villa Rica was the next “first Sunday” at a new church and was a total opposite of the bad I had gone through in that nasty little family church. (No love lost there) The young people at Villa Rica made me feel at home from the first Sunday. I still remember the Smiths and the Horsleys and how they were some of the coolest people I ever met. The first Sunday in Savannah was also very welcoming as well. I also loved the city. It was my last “first Sunday” I was experience at a new church.
The other churches were Valdosta, Moultrie, Temple and Homeland. You’d probably need to Google it to find Temple and Homeland. I was too young to really remember the first churches in Valdosta and Moultrie.
I have to tell the story about Temple. The church was actually called “Oak Hill” and was probably the smallest church my dad ever pastored. It was on a hill somewhere near Temple, Georgia but there wasn’t a tree on the entire property and most definitely absent of any oak trees. I don’t think I ever heard why it was ever called “Oak Hill”. My dad was appointed to this church after leaving a one-year stay in Moultrie, Georgia. We left a church that had a parsonage (a house for the pastor and family) to Oak Hill which did not have a residence for the pastor. My parents were unable to find a place to live in the short time to relocate there. With time running out, we decided to temporarily move into the Sunday School rooms in back of the church. It wasn’t a huge issue since the church was so small that they were using the Sunday School rooms anyway. The issue for us was that the church did not have “modern” bathrooms. The only facilities were two outhouses on the property. Yep, outhouses – like Little House on the Prairie days. We used them too and at my age I saw it as an adventure but my parents weren’t so enthused about it. We each took baths in my small kiddie swimming pool. I can’t remember exactly how we did that but it was quite an interesting temporary situation. Eventually we were blessed with an opportunity to buy a mobile home and set it up on the property. If memory serves me correctly, our pioneer days experience lasted for about three months.
As far as my first Sunday at Oak Hill….there’s not much to say about it since the church had no kids or teens at all. I was the youngest one there so there wasn’t any peer pressure to deal with. In the year at that church, my mother was my Sunday School teacher and there were some Sundays that we were the only ones my dad had in attendance for his sermon. Yes, it was small.
Those seven first Sundays formed me. Not just that one day but in the other Sundays that followed. It wasn’t a charmed life. Learning the new people. Knowing who you could trust and who were a bad influence. It probably had a lot to do with my introverted ways. I wouldn’t always open up too much too soon until I got to know people. Many times people would comment about how quiet I was. I was quiet but I learned to observe people first and I still do that even today.
These first Sundays in August prepared me for the other firsts such as the first days on a new job. In reflection those church Sundays might have prepared me for dealing with the new situations as an adult. I have learned that the person who tells you office gossip on the first day is always the person who is the problem in the office. Don’t worry, I’m not going to name those people here. I can tell you I learned that perception in the first Sundays in church and it has been true every time. I can also tell you that nobody in your new place cares about what successes you have had in other places, you always have to proof yourself with the new people.
Today is the first Sunday of August but I’m glad that I’m not in a new church this morning.