A Back Number

I AM a back number. I have not arrived at this conclusion hastily, or without thought or regret. It has been borne in upon me for several years. I might have known it sooner if I had been alert to the facts. The evidence has been most pronounced, perhaps, in the matter of church-going. Whenever I attend church in a new place, I find myself hesitating. I make wary inquiries before setting out. ask carefully about a possible “ committee of welcome.” I approach cautiously. I have been known, at the very vestibule, to turn and flee. The sight of an especially friendly usher or committee of welcome terrifies me beyond approach. I have an old-fashioned way of regarding a church as the house of the Lord. I have a consequent sense of freedom in it. All this new machinery of welcome and hand-shaking and pleasant conversation appalls me. That a man with a black beard, whom I have never seen before, and whom I am earnestly wishful never to see again, should feel at liberty to grasp my hand and hold his face very close, while he welcomes me to the sanctuary, is a source of embarrassment, even of annoyance, to a conservative person. It puts me in a state of mind that ill accords with the spirit of worship. Even if I escape the preliminary welcome, I never feel thoroughly safe. There is the possibility that the preacher, from his watch tower, may spy out the newcomer, and, by some method of speed or circumvention, as yet unfathomed by me, may be waiting at the front door to give me an earnest social welcome. All this is painful to one accustomed, by experience and tradition, to look up to the preacher, to drink in his words of wisdom with no carnal expectation or hope of later being grasped by the hand as a prospective church member.

I find that I miss something in the new method, — a hush before the service, a sense of waiting upon the spirit, an atmosphere of prayer and praise, the hush that followed “ The Lord watch between thee and me,” the quiet dispersing of the congregation ; some gathering in groups to talk over the sermon, or the weather, or the crops, or rumors of war; but every one at liberty to walk quietly away, down the long street, under the shading trees, carrying the words of comfort and inspiration in his heart. My chief objection to the committee of welcome is that they have made all this impossible. Even if one escapes them without bodily contact, there is an uncomfortable sense of a gauntlet run; of a strategic turn at the fatal moment, which barely brought one safely through. The spiritual mood, the sense of spiritual communion with one’s fellows, is gone, never to return. It is old-fashioned to regret it. It is useless to evade it. But I find myself saying, with the great prophet, “ I am not better than my fathers.”I would that their ways might have been my ways until I died.