Al Batt: Making church more comfortable for others

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt

There is a movement to make people more comfortable in church.

Different kinds of music are played in the hopes of attracting different people.

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Pews are padded. Padded pews! In the old days, good and otherwise, pews were hard enough to crush diamonds. Many pews had a strip of wood on the back that ate into the spines of congregants to prevent any nodding off during a sermon. There would be no relaxing in church. We were meant to squirm uncomfortably while contemplating the depth of our sins.

There was no room for jocularity.

Where giggling isn’t encouraged, that’s where giggling thrives.

As a child, there were few things more difficult than trying to stop giggling when in church.

The more we were shushed, the more incessant our giggling became.

Our defense was taken from Psalms that said, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

We’d learned to pick things from the Bible that best served our purposes.

Our Sunday school teacher’s favorite Bible verse was, “Jesus wept.”

The Sunday school class had become a giggle-athon.

Giggling was a way that we expressed our optimism. We were optimists and we hoped that would last.

We knew we shouldn’t have been snickering. Or as we might have put it, “kinda knew,” but giggling was a perfect fit for our skill set.

We hadn’t given our actions much thought. We hadn’t given anything much thought. At our age, our thoughts ran the gamut all the way from A to C.

We’d been warned.

“Knock it off,” we were advised sternly.

We’d already learned that taking advice could be difficult.

The giggling threatened to move to guffaws.

Soon, a menacing figure appeared in the doorway of our classroom. It was Agnes. She was the Sunday School superintendent. She was a lovely, sweet woman except when there was rampant giggling in a Sunday School class. She had retired from the bank and had thick eyeglasses that kept her looking bankish. She walked with the aid of a huge, thick cane that had once been an entire majestic oak tree.

She said not a word as she moved slowly nearer to the apprehensive students. The giggling had stopped. It’s difficult to giggle while swallowing nervously.

She paused at the front desk. She raised her cane. It was no small feat to raise something of that size over one’s head.

My whole life flashed before my eyes. It wasn’t pretty. Apparently, my life had been filled with giggling in church and little else.

The cane whistled through the air as it slammed down hard onto a desk. Harmon Killebrew would have been envious of that swing.


The desk bent under the force of the blow, but managed to recover.

Kids shot high into the air, using only their rear ends for propulsion from seated positions. Turning rock-hard chairs into trampolines was, at the very least, a minor miracle,

Agnes waited until each of the wide-eyed children had fallen back into their chairs. Then she stared at one or perhaps all of us, it was hard to tell with her thick glasses.

We were used to getting looks. Mothers, teachers and bus drivers were masters of the devastating looks that could wilt a willow. Agnes gave us a look that we’d never experienced before. I suppose it was because none of us had ever been married.

It might have been a violation of our constitutional rights, but “I’ll see you in court” wasn’t a part of our vocabularies.

Giggling had become the furthest thing from our minds.

I worried that I might never be able to giggle again, at least not without a telethon.

I pictured myself going to a faith healer one day. The healer, who could make himself sweat at will, would ask, “What is your affliction, son?”

I’d hesitate before blurting out, “I can’t giggle!”

The audience would shudder uncontrollably.

That caused me to giggle nervously.

“Hallelujah,” said the leader. “He’s cured!”

“Amen,” said everyone else.

I’d have been most thankful for that. Giggles are good to have around. They are useful.

Just the other day, I talked to a fellow who was grasping a cheap book titled, “Minnesota for Idiots.”

He was using it to do a frugal, self-guided tour of the Gopher State.

I welcomed him on behalf of all Minnesotans.

He said cheerfully, “This book has been a big help. I’d always wanted to see Des Moines.”

I thought of Agnes.

I giggled politely and quietly.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.