Growing up, I sang this song every Sunday (but minus a pipe organ, which is sad, because a well-played pipe organ is a-ma-zing):
And at the close of every service, the reverend would speak these words:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
We also sang hymns, recited the Lord's Prayer, and were done within the hour. It was what you would call a traditional church. We met on Sundays, for Christmas Eve candle light services, and for potluck suppers and that was about it. In fact, it was within this context, this culture, that I first heard the term "Sunday Christian" -- you met with God on Sundays, but for the rest of the week, He basically hung out at the church while you went about your daily affairs.
Like any church, it was not perfect. Sometimes, I will admit, it was a little bit boring. But I would not say I had a negative experience with church growing up.
Now I'm a part of a bigger church, as I have mentioned before. I am thankful and grateful for the people there, for my pastors, for the things I have learned. There is certainly a more diverse background to the membership as well. Some come from church backgrounds where there wasn't love or grace or fellowship. There were rules and conditions, and you could follow them all but you still wouldn't know for sure if you would be going 'up' or 'down' when you died. God was distant, far off, and just waiting for you to mess up. He wasn't so much a Saviour as a harsh taskmaster. Understandably, people want to distance themselves from such a past. There are not many (if any) good memories associated with it.
But then there are those such as myself (because I can't be the only one) who do have good memories of the churches we used to go to. We hear words like 'doxology' and 'benediction' or 'liturgy' and 'order of service' without the clanking of heavy chains echoing in the distance. No, we hear the word 'doxology' and hear the song above as sung by a small congregation gathered along wooden pews every Sunday with the accompanying piano. Mention 'benediction' and we hear the words from Numbers 6:24-26 spoken by a man with a clerical collar and black horn-rimmed glasses who would later draw a dot on a piece of paper and call it an airplane in the sky. An 'order of service' is simply something we read in the bulletin. It was what we did on Sunday in church.
Was it perfect? As I said before, no, it wasn't.
Were there things that were lacking or absent altogether? Yes.
I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. I guess all I'm trying to say is not everyone's church past is a negative one. The church of my youth may have been dry, it may have been lacking or flat-out wrong in some things. But . . . it was not a total waste or a complete write-off either.
So I'll sing old hymns. I may read a prayer. I'll continue to enjoy pipe organ music. Not religiously as in 'all form, zero substance', but with a thankful heart, as a way to fellowship with God with substance, with meaning, with purpose. And I'll be thankful for the small steps I was able to take to get to know at least a little something about Him and His Word in the old country church of my childhood.