I found out today that the church I grew up in had been torn down. Calvary Baptist Church in Yankton, South Dakota. My cousin Tom, who still lives in South Dakota, sent a link to a story in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan—or the P&D, as we called it, the newspaper I used to toss on doorsteps as a boy.
Calvary Baptist was a white clapboard church built in 1903. It was about eight blocks from our house. We could walk to church, and we often did. Once, all nine of us walked (Mom, Dad, and the seven of us kids) because a blizzard had buried our station wagon parked on the street.
We sat every Sunday in the second pew. Nine of us could fit.
I was born in that church and we were there three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday Prayer Meeting. I must have heard a thousand sermons between my infancy and the day we moved away when I was a sophomore in high school.
I learned to sing at Calvary Baptist. We sang Gospel songs with choruses I soon knew by heart. Even if you didn’t know the words to the verses, you could belt out the chorus.
I love to tell the story,
‘Twill be my theme in glory.
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love.
One of my Sunday School classes met in the furnace room. In the heat of August I sat through long summer revivals. I remember the Christmas cantatas, the baptism services up in the baptistry where Pastor Omanson appeared in waders, wearing a bow tie which would not get wet when he leaned over and plunged someone into those cold waters.
I remember Vacation Bible School. We came in singing,
Boys and girls for Jesus
This our earnest prayer.
Boys and girls for Jesus,
Home and school and play and everywhere.
We’ll tell the world of life in Jesus,
He is all our song.
There is all you need in Jesus
Won’t you come along.
We got a box lunch that included chocolate milk, a luxury I would never receive at home.
When I was six I accepted Christ as my personal savior. A special evangelist was preaching and I answered his altar call. Since I was so young, the preacher’s wife sat with me in the first pew on the left and “led me to the Lord,” as we used to say. It was good to know that I was going to heaven, along with the rest of my family, whom I loved. We did everything together, as a family, and I certainly didn’t want to miss glory with all of them.
I went to youth group and had my first crushes on some of the Calvary girls.
Whenever someone had a baby there would be a red rose on the communion table down in front of the pulpit. One Sunday we walked in, saw the red rose and were stunned. This was a small town and a smaller church. We knew everybody who was even thinking about having a baby. So: who had a baby?
Turns our Mrs. Rempfer, a rather corpulent woman, had managed to diet throughout her pregnancy so that as the child grew her body diminished. She had a baby in secret. We were all gobsmacked, but there was the red rose on the communion table. It was the talk of the town.
It hurt to see my boyhood church demolished. I had been back often; each time felt like a pilgrimage. The article in the Press & Dakotan said that before the wreckers lit into the church, people were allowed to take out souvenirs. The stained glass had been rescued by someone.
I wish I had been there to take out that second pew.