Although I do not remember my first church service, I am guessing it was just days after my birth. I was raised in the church, attending services twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays. Many of the remaining days of the week were spent attending church-related activities. My father insisted there was no excuse for missing a service and demanded we always arrive on time (as he often said, “It’s better to arrive a half hour early than show up even one minute late.”)
He was also strict about our behavior in church. We must dress properly, refrain from making noise or causing a distraction, must pay attention, remain alert (and awake)…well, let’s just say that there were many rules of good conduct by which we were admonished to abide. One “look” from Daddy was all it took to make certain we were in our best form.
But he may have missed some of our antics (or perhaps he chose to overlook them from time to time.) Sometimes I’d lay down in the pew. And sometimes I’d fall asleep. Sometimes we’d whisper and giggle with our friends, stopping only when an adult turned around and scowled. And I am loathe to admit it but sometimes we’d make fun of the elderly lady with the blue hair.
So it is with some amusement and much enlightenment that I finished reading a booklet about the South Fork Baptist Church written by Mildred “Millie” Wilson Rule. By reviewing the Books of Minutes from the church’s archives, she relates some of the church’s “Rules of Decorum”. These rules, she noted, were rigidly enforced by the pastor, the deacons and other members of the association.
Millie writes, “We are told that, in the early church, discipline was strict and the church was concerned about the life and conduct of its members…Besides parental discipline, the church members had ways of disciplining each other.” She later adds, “There is evidence that occasionally in their zeal for ‘warning, rebuking, and admonishing’ they forgot about ‘walking together in brotherly love’”.
My father had attended that church. Could it be that this is where he learned his strict code of conduct? Could it be that he received “the look” from his own father when, as a lad, Dad’s behavior was less than acceptable? Could it be that he was practicing, and passing down to his family, the rules Millie transcribed in her book which included:
“Any member failing to attend three church meetings in succession will be required to give satisfaction to the church for their absence.”
“In-as-much as order and decency becomes the House of God no whispering or laughing in the time of a speech, no loitering or lying down in time of a session will be expected.”
“No member shall cast any reflections or make remarks on the slips, failures, or imperfections of any other member on pain of the censure of the church.”
If my father was under such scrutiny, it would certainly explain a lot. It may also be the reason why Daddy overlooked some of my lesser moments. I could have been one of those members that was “censured and excluded” for breaking the rules. While I had never missed three church meetings in a row, I would have certainly attempted to explain away any other perceived infractions. To my father: “I wasn’t sleeping. I was just resting my eyes.” And to the elderly lady: “Blue is definitely your color.”
You can read the entire transcript of Mildred Rule’s book, “The South Fork Baptist Church - A History”, by clicking here. Her transcription of the Books of Minutes mentions topics such as the church’s earliest history, its organization and transformation through the years, names of pastors and members, the introduction of Sunday School, the cemetery and, of course, the “Rules of Decorum”.