by Ray Lenarcic

Gimme that old-time religion
Gimme that old-time religion
Gimme that old-time religion
It’s good enough for me.

And it was. As I sit in wonder about the troubled state of religion in America today, I can’t help but take a trip down memory lane to revisit my personal religious experiences while growing up; rich, fulfilling profoundly impactful experiences.

From birth until graduation from high school, I was a member of the First Baptist Church in Little Falls, N.Y., pastored by our own Billy Graham, the Reverend Frederick Thorne. While I have many memories of my time there, a few stand out.

The earliest, during the annual Christmas pageant, fellow kindergartners and I sat in a circle around our Sunday School teacher listening to her recite Moore’s “The Night before Christmas.” The others were listening. In what should come as no surprise to the family, friends, and former students, I was reciting the classic half a beat ahead of the teacher to everyone’s delight save for my mother, Vivian, whose efforts to shush me were, per usual, of no avail.

I vividly recall attending Sunday School classes taught by the incomparable Mary Thorne, the pastor’s wife. As sweet and loving as a person who ever lived, she patiently and effectively taught us the virtues of being kind, caring, and forgiving while warning about the evils of lying, cheating, and hypocrisy. She, along with her fellow teachers, worked diligently to inculcate in each of us those Christian values essential for our character development.

During my teens, I was a member of the Christian Service Brigade. A young man’s club, the CSB combined some teaching with physical activities (our church had a small gym) and performing community service-volunteer work. Other “stick-out” moments include playing my trumpet during services and, aged 16, giving the closing prayer on Easter Sunday. Finally, if I close my eyes, I can still see and hear Pastor Fred, his booming voice delivering those unforgettable sermons which reinforced everything we had learned in Sunday School.

So, I got some of that old-time religion by attending church regularly for fourteen years. I also got some at home. My mother was a God-fearing Baptist and reminded me almost daily about those pre-described tenets. She had a way of making me feel guilty when I dared to transgress. And it worked. I often thought twice about making that right choice knowing that if I didn’t, I’d not only be sinning but hurting her. Admittedly, like everyone else, I screwed up occasionally (e.g., helping the boys soap surely ole Mrs. Schmidt’s windows one Halloween), and the worst punishment I suffered was mental anguish. While pain from a leather strap goes away quickly, guilt and shame can be interminable.

And I got that old-time religion from daily interactions with my peer group. The Furnace Street Gang. What I’ve just shared with you regarding my religious upbringing could be just as easily said for every one of my friends-Gabby, Bruddie, the Balderston and Long brothers, Fitzie, Ronnie, Forbsie, etc. That old-time religion was a daily part of their lives too. They attended church or the synagogue regularly and had parents who made them toe the line. We watched over each other-insurance for when conscience wasn’t one’s guide. I’ve followed them over the years and, without exception, they’ve been successful, great parents and grandparents, instilling in their progeny, as I have in mine, those same values that made them happy, conscientious, productive human beings.

Presently, I’m extremely worried, as I’m sure you are, about our future, given the increasing violence and disunity plaguing the nation. When asked recently by a friend what I thought was the answer to these problems, my response was a simple one-bring back that old-time religion. Can you imagine a country populated by people who truly live their faiths on a daily basis? People who are guided by such Christian-Judaic principles as love, kindness, toleration, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity? While one might not be religious in the theological sense, one cannot argue the viability of embracing the aforementioned virtues.

Today, belonging to certain churches whose congregations have lost sight of what it means to practice what one preaches has been called into question. And practicing what one preaches, as personified by the Man from Galilee who opened His arms to ALL people, includes living a life guided by those Ten Commandments at the exclusion of racial hatred, bigotry, and intolerance.

As I approach the end of what has been on balance, a wonderful life, I longingly yearn for one wish to come true-that with the swoop of my hand, I could infuse every man, woman, and child in this land with a dose of that old-time religion. It was good enough for me. It’ll be good enough for you. And everyone else.