church in a tin shed
by william hults
It was really an aluminum utility structure measuring about 120’ by 60’ with a 20’ to 25’ roof. It was intended to serve as a gymnasium for the Seventh Day Adventist primary school that set on the back of the seven-acre lot. The south one-third of the building became a sanctuary and the north one-third became a kitchen, community service center, and upstairs classrooms when the congregation grew out of the little white chapel on the corner of Seventh and Florence in Claremore, Oklahoma.
The structure is hard to find without special directions. It has no cross. It has no steeple. It has no unique name. The mailbox hangs open and the 3’ by 5’ signboard is hard to read. The parking lot is some gravel overgrown with patches of grass. The exterior metal panels are sun-bleached, and the exterior lights are bare 60 watt bulbs, with one of the two usually burnt out or missing. The roof overhangs the sidewalk about halfway as to provide icy drips on bald spots and bushy heads alike.
The address was changed to 20555 S. 4170 Road to implement a “more expedient” locational system for emergency response personnel. However unchanged are the street signs at the corner: ST HWY 20 and LAKE/NS 417, with not a hint of 4170 RD anywhere.
For the more persistent church seekers, there is also, at that corner of ST HWY 20, a 3’ by 5’ signboard indicating that the church is a distance of .3 miles to the north. Just follow the arrow. Special directions would include instructions to disregard the street signs and look for the 3’ by 5’ sign after having gone east on ST HWY 20 .8 miles past the 255 entrance to the I 44/Will Rogers Turnpike.
When we moved to Claremore…
When we moved to Claremore, in April of 2000, we were pleased to immediately be accepted into the congregation with no formality and a large measure of camaraderie.
I am particularly pleased in the open nature with which the Sabbath evening vespers were exercised. Admittedly there were the occasions when the presenter was not so well prepared or even much motivated. But on the “average” it turns out to have been a musical adventure spiced with a good story and always appropriately reverent. Some evenings were blessed with as many as six trumpets playing parts. A tuba, trombone, and French horn, too. On a couple of evenings, there were more than a score of musicians in concert. Then there times there were as many as three violins, one of which magically became a fiddle in the gym, and not least forgetting strumming guitars aplenty. Bands, choirs, duets, trios and so-on, and it follows that the congregation had strong musical leanings.
When in the fall of 2002, a lady from in our midst called for choir volunteers, I was pleased to sign-up, no experience required. Someone mentioned that the lady was a retired choir director of fame and ability. It was an answer to a personal prayer. One of my retirement ambitions was to see if I could learn to sing. But at each practice, the number of singers diminished, and I was becoming alarmed at my own lack of improvement. It was so confusing. All the symbols! Notations! Abbreviations! Left brain, right brain, rattle brain!
And then we were informed we would be performing, December 7, at the “Festival Of Lights.” The Pastor said it was to be an outreach to the community. I thought maybe God was testing me, so I dared not quit.
Soon enough, the gym was decorated very artistically with many Christmas trees of different sizes strung with hundreds of sparkling crystal white lights creating a wintry woodland scene, with snow, icy ponds, and a footbridge right there inside.
Our practice the night before the concert was terrible. The church was a scene of wild disorder. I whispered a little prayer under my breath asking for a quorum of an audience and that they be loving and understanding.
A run-through was scheduled the next day for the hour before the performance, but it did not happen. There were a hundred people with two hundred different priorities dashing about. We were all supposed to be in our places by 6:50 pm, but at 7 o’clock people were still milling all about.
Then a corruption of nerve-grinding clatter came echoing into the sanctuary.
The number of invited guests had exceeded the sanctuary seating capacity, and people were setting up folding chairs out in the gymnasium and down the aisles. I feared our producer, Pastor Harvey, had indeed, laid an egg and oversold our abilities. We were going to flop. I felt it in my gut, where those little glands were squirting fuel into the fire that lay smoldering therein.
At 7:10 pm the Pastor opened the proceedings with appropriate remarks and prayers. He then turned the podium over to the distinguished Master of Ceremonies who graciously received an official declarium from the office of the Mayor recognizing The First Annual Festival of Lights.
Then it all came together.
It was magnificent. It was a miracle. I knew God was surely in that place with an army of angels.
The height of the evening was celebrated with a candle-lighting ceremony. There were 650 candles in all, including those already lit in paper bags outlining the gravel and weed parking lot. The musical part of the festival ended with the choir “Oo-oo-ooing” to the music of “Silent Night” while we double-filed our way down the center aisle, around the folding chairs, and into the gym. The audience then was dismissed, row by row, singing the last three verses.
Upon exiting the sanctuary we were met by a reception platoon of snappy youthful waiters, smartly dressed, properly presenting trays of sweets and goodies. At the side opposite, the hostess commanded an army of ready filled cups to conquer one’s thirst. To the back of the gym was a stage decorated with a saddle, ropes, and a large display of horseman’s tack. On the stage was a cowboy band and singers that entertained the participants and audience as they enjoyed the abundant repast and fellowship.
As I left for the parking lot, I ran my hand along the side of the building musing that the walls might be bowing-out for all the love that filled that beautiful, beautiful Tin Shed.
Thank you, God, we love you.
William Hults is my dad. He’s a writer. I love reading anything he writes. He writes memoirs, flash-fiction, poetry, plays, short stories, and novellas. Several years ago, we did a reading of a sci fi play he wrote about a radio and a furnace and a guy who wore “shinny” shoes—one of the main characters wore shinny shoes, although my dad says the manuscript was supposed to read “shiny.” So if you every hear us talk about shinny shoes, you know where the phrase came from.