The word, sanctuary conjures up different meanings. It could mean an animal sanctuary, a place of meditation, or what we typically think of… a church sanctuary.
This little country church, pictured below, is the first church I remember attending. Green Mound Church is located in Southeast Iowa, in Henry county. It has stood for generations on this quiet, bucolic landscape where my Dad’s side of the family worshiped, observed baptisms, weddings, funerals, Bible School, and feverish revival meetings!
Across the road, sprawls the cemetery for the church. Most of my paternal relatives are buried there, Uncles, Aunts, and Grandparents, and even some dear friends.
I used to walk the isles of grave stones looking for familiar names, but mostly trying to find the oldest stones. Some predate the Civil War. Some carved in ornate relief. Heavenly angels and cherubs, flowers, scrolls and terms of endearment that fill the surfaces of granite. Some are but white, chalky slabs slanting from the earth. Their faces unreadable from the elements and time. Babies and young children occupy many of the plots, their young lives snuffed out by influenza, measles, and other diseases that we give little thought to, now.
It is a peaceful place. An unusual spot to commiserate with my friend, Rita. But, that’s just what we did one summer afternoon. We settled on the lush grass and spoke of our boyfriends and the trials of teenhood! Away from the commotion of our busy, loud families we talked about whatever we wanted.
While scrolling through my Facebook last week, I came upon a picture that my childhood friend, Kathy Gerig Wiley, posted. It was of the Green Mound sanctuary. I was awestruck at how familiar it looked after all this time. Like I could step into the picture and start singing, “Amazing Grace.”
The smells of wooden pews, song books, and other aromas came flooding back to memory. The closeness of robust Iowa farmers and their wives added to the soup of smells that hovered over us in the heat of summer. Over-applied toilet water could not mask the lack of deodorant in those days! Cardboard fans adorned with, Solomon’s head of Christ gave little relief to the still, humid air. Fidgeting children drew on the back of church bulletins, and played quietly with books or fell asleep on their Mother’s lap.
Babies cried. Nodding-off husbands were jarred back to consciousness with a poke in the ribs by their wives, and from the pulpit, the word of God came down…delivered through Reverend Hughes. He reminded us of our shortcomings and the damnation that awaited us if we didn’t head the warnings of the Almighty’s word!
An alter-call would conclude each service. For those of you unfamiliar with that tradition, it is an invitation to walk to the front of the sanctuary and confess your sins, and become, “Born Again!”
I always dreaded, alter-call. For one thing, they would play the hymn, “Just AS I Am,” which would tug at anyone’s heart, and if you didn’t come during the first go-round, they would play it again! As a child I would peak to see if anyone went forward. I’d think about all the things I’d done in the past week–lied to my mom, teased my brother, impure thoughts about an eighth-grade boy, and I’d sneaked mom’s Tangee. I’d worn it to school like a dance hall floozy on “Gun Smoke!” You know, the usual adolescent sins!
Bible school was the most fun for me. The surrounding farm community, and some from near-by towns would attend. Games, Bible lessons, and sack lunches outdoors filled the typical day. At the end, those of us, new born-agains, would be taken to the river and dunked completely under the muddy shallows. Somehow, I didn’t feel, “Whiter than snow!”
My Aunt Geraldine, Dad’s sister, played the piano. She was born for the job! Always dressed to the nines, she sparkled and played her way through every service.
My cousins, Lucy and Harold Grant also attended our church. I always looked forward to seeing them. We’d conspire to get together after church, maybe go swimming in town, or just hang out. What a treat…getting to go to the big town of Wayland. I’d walk the streets with my Cuz, stopping at the grocery or hardware store for candy cigarettes and something to drink. It was a simpler time, no worries…just be back by dark!
It was the time of the “Can-Can” petticoats– layers of Tulle netting sewn together. Sunday was the day to show-off our newest clothes. All the girls tried to have the fullest petticoat. The real test was how high the skirt flipped-up when you sat down! The higher, the better!
It’s good to know that there are some things from my youth that are alive and doing well. These days the congregation is smaller, but the fact that this church still stands is a testament to the steadfast goodness and spirit of a faithful people!
Green Mound will turn 170 years-old this year. What an achievement!
P.S. I’d love to hear from current parishioners as to how things are going.