2022-07-12_21-04-46

Amongst Steeple People

“Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” Remember saying the nursery rhyme while making a finger church? It was fun doing that!

I love my hometown church. As I reflect on “all the people,” I realize how much they shaped my life. I learned early on that the church is not a building; the church is the people in the building.

My hometown church was smack-dab in the heart of my hard-to-pronounce Indian-named city of Sylacauga. It was and still is a two-story beige brick building with stained-glass windows and Greek columns. The First Baptist Church of Sylacauga has stood in its stately location at Broadway and Fort Williams since 1914. What started as a small cabin with a stick chimney, dirt floors, and log seats by a colonel to Andrew Jackson has grown to be the largest Baptist church in the city.

My parents, George and Margaret O’Kelley, joined First Baptist in 1958 when they moved to Alabama from Texas. From when my sisters and I were born until we were college-bound, First Baptist was our second home. Vacation Bible School, Sunbeams, Children’s Choir, Youth Choir, Mission Friends, Girls in Action, Sunday School, Wednesday night prayer meeting, two-week revivals – there was always something going on at the church. Revivals were exciting to me. I especially enjoyed the early morning breakfast donuts and devotions during revivals. Mother asked why I wanted to go to the morning breakfasts. She said I told her that I wanted to go “eat with the Christians.”

Childhood Church Memories

At the age of seven, during one of those hellfire and brimstone revivals, I felt the call of God upon my life and decided to walk the aisle. I gave my heart to Christ. The memory is so vivid I recall what I was wearing – a brown pleated skirt with a matching tan and brown trimmed sweater. Tears flowed down my cheeks, marking the beginning of a lifelong commitment to serve and glorify God.

Vacation Bible School brought happy memories every summer. I loved marching in with the Bible or one of the flags. Holding the Christian flag was the best! I sported it proudly. VBS handmade crafts were a joy, too, sparking my creativity. I ran across a few crafts in my mother’s closet not long ago. The cone-shaped choral boy with a head of Styrofoam brought a chuckle.

I learned how to pray aloud during my elementary Sunday School years. Mrs. Evans called on me often. Other kids were squeamish about praying but not me. Maybe it was Mrs. Grimes who taught me in Sunbeams that I had nothing to fear.  

Sunday School and Training Union instilled a yearning for the Word of God. I enjoyed the poster-like painted photo the teacher would show to accompany the Bible lesson. I still remember some of those pictures – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace with Jesus, Daniel in the den of snarling lions, and the foreboding parting of the Red Sea, to name a few.

Bible drills were a favorite. My skills were unparalleled, especially when I had my compact-sized wooden cover Bible from the Holy Land given me by Mrs. Parrish. (I still have that Bible, although the inside cover is ripped). My friends would groan when Bible drills were announced. Should I be ashamed of proclaiming victory for winning Bible drills? I think not! Had our church been involved in present-day Bible drill competitions, I’m sure I could have been in the rankings. My knowledge of the Bible was a testament to teachers like Judy Parrett, Wilda Jones, and Brenda and Jerry Ousley.

Instilling a Love for Music

The church played a vital role in my love for music. One of my earliest memories is Children’s Choir. Mrs. Goza had a smooth and mellow voice. I wanted to sing like her. I sang with zealous enthusiasm. What could be better than singing to the Lord with a cheerful voice? I thought.

My vocal talents and musical interests landed me in “The Way” youth ensemble. Singing in “The Way” was an honor and a privilege. I was perhaps the longest-running member at seven years. I felt important adorning my long blue performance dress that matched the guys’ polka-dotted shirts and blue vests. Tuesday night “Way” rehearsals were something I looked forward to every week. Many of our songs were from the musical group Truth. Our audio/visual tech was exceptional in operating the reel-to-reel tapes we used. I fancied his extreme shyness and took on the challenge to break it for my friend and fellow “Way” member. Martha and Parky (George Parker) began dating as a result of my matchmaking efforts. That is until Martha decided Parky was not the one for her. Being shafted by my untamable boyfriend – who was also a “Way” member – Parky and I found solace in sharing our dating woes. We talked for hours on the steps of my front porch. After leaving one night, I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if I could fall in love with this guy? On Easter Sunday 2022, we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary!

I shall conclude with “Amongst Steeple People” Part 2 in my next blog. In the meantime, I would love to read in your comments below how the church has built you into who you are today.

Karen Allen

2 Comments

  1. J.D. Wininger on July 15, 2022 at 10:24 am

    I can’t say that I have a lot of “church memories” from my childhood, as my church experiences were not something I even care to remember because it was so non-Christian. As a teen, after adoption, church (we were an Assembly of God family of Methodist and Catholic upbringing) was much different, but because I worked all through high school, there wasn’t much time for other activities. My fondest memories of church, other than my salvation experience, my “turning away” phase, and my recovery, are those where helping children grow in Christ and God’s word. Teaching adult Sunday school, discipleship training, etc. are all wonderful things, but there’s nothing better than seeing little guys and gals light up when they’ve memorized a verse, or answered a question during story time. Those are some of my favorite “steeple people” moments. Thanks Ms. Karen.

    • Karen Allen on July 15, 2022 at 4:10 pm

      Everyone’s experience is different. And you are exactly right. There is a lot to seeing little ones excited about the Bible and hearing Bible stories. While there are some wonderful steeple people out there, a few bad apples somehow find their way into the basket, don’t they? Thanks for commenting.

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