Before There Was Me: Part 2 (Chapel)
Before we go any further in my story, we must introduce the church.
My parents attended a church called Meadow Ridge Bible Chapel (henceforth known as “chapel”) in West Fargo, North Dakota. I’m not familiar with the history of this church, nor with which (if any) denomination the church is affiliated.
By the time I came along, chapel was located in a very nice building in West Fargo. When you arrived, you would walk into a lobby area that had restrooms and a coat room. Then you would walk through beautiful double doors into the chapel area. The chapel was square with a bookstore and a nursing moms’ room in the back. Also along the back wall was a bookcase with stacks of hymnals and the offering box.
Chapel took seriously the command to not forsake the assembling together of the believers. Every Sunday, they had an early morning Remembrance meeting, during which communion was served, followed by a morning meeting, followed by Sunday School. There was also an evening meeting every Sunday and a prayer meeting every Wednesday. We attended all meetings.
During the Remembrance meeting, the seating would be arranged with 3-4 rows of chairs along each wall of the chapel, with a small table with a white cloth in the middle holding the unleavened bread which represented the body of Christ, and grape juice which represented the blood of Christ. (When I was small, they just had a few glasses of juice which everyone passed around, each taking a sip. It was an exciting day when they got a real communion set with the little cups in a silver tray. Finally, no one has to risk getting mono, strep or herpes from communing with the Lord!) I don’t remember much about this meeting except that a few hymns were sung — always hymns pertaining to Jesus on the cross and how wretched and undeserving of grace humanity is — all in acapella. Sometimes very pressing prayer needs were mentioned, and then a man would stand and pontificate on the reason and meaning of the communion service. After a prayer, the bread would be passed and each would help him or herself to a small piece. Repeat the last sentence for the cup, a hymn would be sung and the meeting would end.
I did enjoy that service more than any other at that church. I really don’t know why, aside from the fact that it was such a peaceful service. And, too, since it was the first service of the day, I hadn’t had time to get bored yet.
There was a short break after the Remembrance meeting, during which the men would move the chairs into a more traditional church setting — long rows of chairs on either side of the room with an aisle down the middle — and they would also switch out the Remembrance hymnals for the morning meeting hymnal. I don’t remember what the ladies did during this time, although I’m sure a lot of them spent that time taking little ones to the bathroom, changing diapers or nursing babies.
The morning meeting consisted of a few hymns accompanied by piano and one of the elders would go to the front and preach. After meeting, the kids would go to Sunday School and then everybody would go home. The evening meeting was a lot like the morning meeting, only with a different person preaching.
Meadow Ridge thrived on rules and regulations.
- No one was to ever stand during meeting unless they were praying, preaching, pontificating or pacifying a cranky baby. I only remember one incident where the church was instructed to stand during a hymn.
- No one was to ever interrupt during preaching or pontification. Absolutely no “Amens” or “Hallelujahs” allowed.
- All of the women were to wear head coverings during meetings.
- Women weren’t allowed to take part in the meetings except to sit and listen and harmonize with the men while singing hymns. I remember one time two women sang a duet as a special music, but that only happened once the whole time I attended there. Also, the piano was played by a man. The church acquired an organ at one point, and I remember there being a question as to whether it would be appropriate for a woman to play it during meeting. After much discussion, she was allowed to use her gift during meetings.
- There were rules about who could take communion, but I don’t remember what those particular rules were.
- All children were expected to sit quietly with their parents during all meetings. Moms could take a baby out to nurse if Baby got cranky, but if a kid was too old to nurse, he or she had to just deal. And it wasn’t easy — the sermons were long and they were preached to adults. Generally, kids didn’t get much out of it.
- The offering plate was never passed. If you felt led to tithe, you just dropped your offering in the box in the back.
Occasionally, the church would have a “pot blessing” meal, which my family never stayed for.
The weekly prayer meetings were held in homes for about 2 hours per session. The prayer groups were divided by which area of town families lived in so each prayer group usually had the same people in it. My family and a few other families took turns hosting, and once a month, all the groups would get together at the church for a big church prayer meeting.
The Wednesday night prayer meeting was my second favorite meeting. I liked the peaceful, serene atmosphere. (And, once again, it was the only meeting of the day and it wasn’t terribly long, so it didn’t get boring like the others did.) We would sing a few hymns, usually acapella (although sometimes accompanied by guitar), then the men would read off their prayer lists and discuss what exactly needed to be prayed for, and then the men would take turns praying aloud until about 3-5 minutes before closing time. Then one of the men would suggest a closing hymn.
The chapel had a women’s ministry of some kind, which I know nothing about since my mom didn’t attend. I always found the notion of a women’s…. anything…. at the chapel a curious thing because it was quite clear that women weren’t supposed to know anything about the Bible or God, and if they did know something, they weren’t to verbalize it. And women weren’t allowed to pray either, so…. what exactly does a church like this have a women’s ministry for? And what do you do at this kind of women’s ministry? I imagine a group of women sitting in silence for an hour or so followed by refreshments and chitter-chatter about little Johnny’s first tooth and Suzie’s potty training. -Because women aren’t allowed to speak about God, so the actual ministry would have to be nothing at all, and then during the “fellowship” time, you can only speak about things that don’t pertain to God.
Another curious thing was the weekly Sunday School. They had women teaching the smaller children, so women could teach/speak about God, but only to specific audiences (children). The older kids (I don’t remember the exact ages, but I think it was starting about in the third or fourth grade) had male teachers. I don’t remember there ever being a prayer said by a woman in my Sunday school classes – just very general outlines of Bible stories, and all the kids would take turns saying the weekly memory verse. Honestly, it was a joke. There came a time when my siblings refused to continue attending the age-appropriate classes.
Church families were expected to assist with the janitorial work at the chapel. A couple of times a year, my family would be assigned to clean the chapel- vacuuming the main chapel area, dusting, washing windows and cleaning bathrooms on the main floor. Then they would go downstairs and do any necessary cleaning in the Sunday School rooms and prepare the communion elements for the next day.
There are things about this church that are pretty awesome. Like, they expected every family to serve the church. They weren’t going to pay someone to clean the place when there were dozens of people perfectly capable of doing it. I don’t know about anybody else, but I learned to be responsible and take care of the building by keeping it clean as much as possible so that the work wouldn’t be any harder or more time-consuming than was necessary. And I learned the joy of serving the Lord and the brothers and sisters of the church through our occasional janitorial service. (And, my life was pretty monotonous so having something different to do on occasional Saturday afternoons was awesome.)