Thursday, October 9, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
Just glad when thermostat works
Last Sunday I thought we would have to turn on the heat for church, but as it turned out, it was a pleasant day and no heat or air-conditioning of any kind was needed. I hope we have several more Sundays like that for the fall.
Turning on the heat in a large, older structure like ours is something of an operation. The gas line has to be inspected and the filters checked. If that is all that is needed and everything works properly, I feel blessed, for in the church of my childhood, this was not the case one year, and therein lies my tale.
Our Sunday school in Cleveland, Miss., was heated by an old-fashioned steam boiler. It was a good way to heat a large facility, as long as it functioned properly.
One Monday evening in the early fall, the ladies of the church were having their circle meeting at the church, when suddenly they heard a loud clanking coming from the furnace room upstairs over the parlor where they were meeting. Mrs. Bolling, our minister’s wife, phoned her husband at the manse to report the difficulty. “Get out!” he told her with an unusual sternness in his voice.
The ladies scurried outside and could hear that old boiler literally jumping up and down with pressure before it exploded with tremendous force, knocking out plastered walls on the upper floor of the building.
We lived just a block away and the sound of the explosion, followed by the sirens of the fire trucks, aroused my father and me from our television program. At just that moment my grandmother arrived home to report what she had just witnessed.
It was an eerie sight to see all the tables and chairs in my little Sunday school room piled in a heap from the explosion. I was certainly glad the church was not full of children and that the ladies were able to make a hasty, if undignified exit, so that none of them were injured.
A safety valve on the boiler had become stuck and the pressure had built up to unsustainable levels. A new reinforced furnace room was built onto the back of the church, safely away from the meeting areas. But it was a long time before I would sleep anyplace that had a steam boiler.
And the irony was not lost on me that in the church I served years later in Chicago, the boiler for that building was located in a basement room directly under the pulpit! There were more than a few tired jokes about “turning up the heat” on the sermon. What we really dreaded was when that old boiler set the radiators banging when hot water was pumped through the pipes while the choir was singing quiet music.
Little children can be very disturbed when something happens to their church. They learn over time to distinguish between God and God’s house as distinct entities.
When the explosion happened in Cleveland I am not sure I quite had that distinction figured out in my mind. Children need to learn of God as a stabilizing force they can count on—“In returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength. . .” as Isaiah says.
So I am just glad when the thermostat works and we are just warm or cool as the need may be. What if gentle old Dr. Bolling had been preaching when the church blew up? He would never have heard the end of it from the men down at the coffee shop!
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