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A child made me ponder

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By Robert Howey

Earlier this month while attending the 60th annual North-South All-Star football game at Coastal Carolina University, a casual conversation blossomed into a special moment.

Jackson, my 11-year-old son, and I bumped into a newspaper friend from another town at the game that Saturday.

He kidded Jackson, now standing 5-6, he ought to be playing for the Lancaster High basketball team. We laughed and I told him Jackson was playing for the IBC this season, Immanuel Baptist Church.

Our church, First Presbyterian, doesn't field a church team, so he joined Immanuel's squad at a neighbor's invitation.

Our friend said in his hometown a church of the same name started with an "E," as in Emmanuel. I asked if that's where he attended church. He said no, adding in a matter-of-fact tone it had been 25 years since he had been to church.

The conversation moved on and I really didn't give a second thought to his words until later in the day.

Jackson, breaking the silence of our ride home, said, "Dad, 25 years, that's a long time without going to church."

Jackson's words made me think. Obviously, he had thought about it, too.

Our friend's remarks stayed with me through the next day, the second Sunday of Advent, the time marking the celebration of Christ's birth.

Of course, I wouldn't know that if I didn't have a church home.

That Sunday, our church held the annual "Hanging of the Greens" service. Members of the congregation, through this service, decorate the church with wreaths, garland and poinsettias, the Christmas flower named for S.C. native Joel Poinsett, who in the 1820s served as a U.S. envoy to Mexico where he discovered the flower which bears his name. I probably first saw the flower at church and learned of its background there.

The highlight of the "Hanging of the Greens" service is placing Chrismons on the Chrismon tree. The Chrismons are Christ-related Christian symbols. Prior to the service that Sunday, a parament, an alter cloth which my mother had given in memory of my father, was shown to me.

Most of us form our early relationship with the church through our parents. That day during the service, as I sat with my own family, I thought of my parents and was grateful for steering me to church. Growing up, church was where our family came together each week.

Sports, school and scouts, just to mention a few activities, had us going in different directions, but come Sunday, church brought us together.

My mother, a gifted soprano, sang in the choir, but we all sat on the pew with my father. This time of year- Advent- was special to hear my mother sing "Oh, Holy Night."

As a child I'd often nudge my father for a pen to draw on the bulletin. As I grew older, I developed a greater appreciation of that hour. No matter what happened that Sunday a couple weeks back, there were constant reminders why church is important to me. God spoke to me.

In this day in age, we all know Sunday isn't Sunday anymore. I've heard that going to church doesn't make you a good person. At the same time, I don't think it hurts. I, by no means, am a saint, so that's why I often feel the need to be there.

Sometimes it takes a situation, like Jackson and I experienced, to reflect on the big picture.

Since that day, I've often thought how it all came about.

"Dad, 25 years that's a long time without going to church" has rung in my ears.

A child's words.

When we see the wreaths, garland, poinsettias, Chrismon trees and nativity scenes, we truly know the birth of a Child made it so special. Merry Christmas and as always, be good sports.