By NELSON DAWSON | Your Voice Contributor
The thing about Baptists was that they went to church twice on Sunday. Well, some Baptists did, and that definitely included my family. It was not negotiable. But for a 10-year-old, double church duty seemed hard. It was more than double duty actually, because church included Sunday School and something called Training Union on Sunday evenings. My father was Training Union director, so there was no getting out of that.
I was not, as you may already have suspected, a particularly pious child. Indeed, one high point of my youthful church experience was a literal holy-smoke-the-church’s-on-fire scenario – a small blaze but sufficient to cancel the evening service. There were also low points. I remember sitting through an interminable sermon about who-knows-what by our earnest, highly-educated pastor and thinking that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Maybe I would understand it better by and by.
There were, however, unexpected compensations. If my parents had not enforced the twice-on-Sunday rule, I would have missed a memorable evening service. A neighborhood friend of mine was to be baptized. Clearly, he believed in self-service, because as the pastor was preparing to immerse him, he held his nose and ducked under. The congregation gasped; I laughed. The imperturbable pastor hauled him up and ducked him under again. This time, presumably, it counted. I am thankful I was there to see that.
But the profound thanksgiving came to me slowly through the alchemy of time. I am most thankful for the faith that was passed on. But I am now also increasingly thankful for all those people, all those long-ago saints, including, of course, my parents, who passed on the faith in what I now realize was a deeply nurturing community. There was the man who shook hands with everybody, even 10-year-olds, every Sunday. There was the one-legged man who got to church on his own nearly every Sunday, crutches and all. There were the tireless ladies who washed the dishes after church socials. There were so many others whose faces, if not always their names, are with me yet.
Several years ago, I met a man in his eighties at St. Matthews Baptist Church. Without knowing why, I asked him if he knew anyone from Beechmont Baptist Church. He stared, then told me he had grown up at Beechmont before going off to World War II. He was the image of his father, whom I remember fondly. All these wonderful people gave me far more than I could ever have realized at the time.
La Rochefoucauld, that Gallic dissector of the human psyche, observed that old men are fond of giving good advice to console themselves for their inability to give bad examples. I am of a certain age myself, but I can’t help giving advice to parents – do not fear to insist that your children do things for which they will later thank you.
Nelson L. Dawson is a lifelong resident of Louisville. He lives in Crescent Hill with his wife, Susan, and two cats. He also has two sons, Christopher of Columbus, Ohio, and Matthew of Tampa, Fla. He graduated from the University of Louisville, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the University of Kentucky. He is the editor of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society.