As a child I was taken to church every week – a Methodist Church. There was a part in the service, before the sermon, when the kids were ushered out to spend time in small groups, divided by age, learning about the scriptures. I remember some of it required us to colour in scenes from the parables.
Sunday School took place in the bits of the church that weren’t the ‘church’ – the back rooms, the school rooms, the hall. Salem was the first Methodist Church I remember. The hall had a separate entrance from the church, down some steps so that it was almost underground. The hall was dingy with a stage across the long edge opposite the door. I attended the Christian Endeavour Youth Club in this hall and it is the hall I think of if I ever think of Church Halls.
Central Methodist Church had a more modern hall. As well as having its own entrance it was connected to the church proper by a flight of stairs. Again there was a stage and whilst it wasn’t dingy it was recognisable as the ‘school rooms’ – a hall with a kitchen and a couple of smaller meeting rooms. When I think of the Central Church Hall I think of Christmas parties and playing games. I loved one about Little Ernie going to the zoo – it involved being told a story and lots of running about.
When my parents retired, and I had left home, they joined Battyeford Methodist Church. A small chapel, with tiered seating. The hall was on the ground floor, underneath the church, and it had a kitchen, a couple of meeting rooms and a stage. This is where I attended fund-raising bazaars, sales of work, jumble sales, parties and luncheon clubs to pay for the refurbishment of the church.
My latest encounter with a Methodist Church is limited to the use of the hall during a Zumba class – I really like to dance – and there is a stage, with heavy curtains. This hall stands out for me because it is bright – there are huge windows flooding the place with light.
These halls, these Methodist Churches, are all different and yet familiar to me. The stacking chairs and folding tables. The notices pinned to the wall. The piano. Even the colour combination of red velvet curtains and yellowy mustard-coloured paint. And of course the stage.
Methodism traditionally frowned on habits considered too worldly – drinking alcohol, dancing, card-playing, attending the theatre. Things have moved on – but I remember the discussion about allowing ministers to drink alcohol, I’ve met members who refused to buy raffle tickets. My father told the tale of being admonished when a young man because he went dancing. So I find it amusing that a stage always seem to feature in the church hall. A stage – on which the annual panto played out with all its jollity, frivolity and innuendo. A stage – on which men pretended to be women, girls pretended to be boys. A stage – the scene set for dancing girls, make-up and pretence.
I suppose it could also be a stage on which a choir sings carols at Christmas, the nativity scene is re-enacted, a speaker discusses interpretations of the scriptures.
There is something wonderful about this insistence of a stage in those church halls. It reflects the sort of Methodism I was brought up in. The sort that appreciated all aspects of life – spiritual and temporal – and recognised that both were enhanced with laughter and joy. So rather than ‘why a stage?’ Why not?