Thursday, March 2, 2017

Religious Burning

When I was a boy I lived in a remote part of southern West Virginia. The little community I lived in was referred to as Hillsdale. Hillsdale was the site of the Hillsdale Presbyterian church. I happened to live right across the street from the church so, I was asked by the head Deacon, Mr Siebold, to build a fire in two old pot bellied stoves a couple of hours before the 20 or so parishioners assembled to listen to Reverend Shiflett, our circuit riding minister.

The old church was pretty typical of most churches that dotted the landscape of this area of the Appalachians. They looked very much like barns with a steeple on top. Later in life I would hear the term shotgun houses. The term referred to very simple looking homes that were occupied by the lower realm of society who could not afford better. The term applied meant that you could open the front door and the back door and stand in one or the other and fire a shotgun through the house and not hit anything. Well, the term applied to this old shotgun church. Heaven only knows what the vintage of this old place might have been. At that time it could have been 50+ years old. A virtual tinderbox.

This was approximately 60 years ago from where I currently stand in my sojourn through mortality. I remember what a great weight of responsibility I felt in the assignment to build those fires. There was ample kindling wood and kerosene that was stored right there in the church. Also plenty of coal to fuel the stoves with after the initial fire was set. I was being paid 75 cents every Sunday that I performed this task.

By the time I got those two stoves going in time for the Sunday school attendees to sit around, their underbellies would be red hot. That was the nature of an old iron, pot bellied stove. To me it was terrifying. I was convinced that the fire could get away from me easily. I envisioned a headline in the Watchtower of Union, West Virginia, our little regional newspaper, Local kid burns down the Presbyterian church in Hillsdale. 

I sweated bullets over that little job I had. It was pure angst that I felt every Sunday, November through April, when I was called on to build those fires and prepare the building for the preaching and teaching of the gospel.

I ultimately ended up having a career in sales with a huge, global company. I even lobbied the legislatures in 3 southern states toiling over issue after issue that came along that could have impacted our business by millions of dollars. I felt the heat in those assignments. However, I never felt more heat than I did as a ten year old lad building those fires there in the Hillsdale Presbyterian church on those frosty cold West Virginia mornings.

No comments: