With all of the heavy conversations we’ve been having about the Old Testament and ordination and Otterson, I needed a little break. So now it’s time for something completely different…
A few years ago, I was the primary president, my husband was the first counselor in the bishopric, and my youngest son was 3 years old. For a couple of years then, that little guy spent a lot of his time naked. You see, he felt very strongly that in order to go to the bathroom, one must take off all of one’s clothes. He could not even stand to have socks on while attending to his business. The result of this was that I spent a lot of time in the public bathrooms of libraries, parks, and restaurants holding a little bundle of clothes and shoes, waiting and waiting for the leisurely little guy to move it on along so I could get him dressed and get back to whatever it was we were doing.
So this particular Sunday was the day the primary presidency was speaking. My first counselor was giving her talk, and then the children were singing, and then it was my turn. But during her talk, the little guy suddenly announced that he “had to go to the bathroom right now!” Remember, this is a small person who has no sense of getting things done quickly. I wasn’t sure for how much longer my counselor would be speaking, and then the kids were going to sing, and I was assisting the chorister, and really, the song was short. So I did the best I could: I sent the 10 year old to the bathroom with him, with firm instructions to “make sure he gets all of his clothes back on.”
They headed off. I tried to listen to the rest of the talk, but honestly, I was watching the clock and wondering how long it would be until they made it back, or if they would even be back before I got up to speak.
A few minutes later, my 10 year old huffed back into the pew and thrust a bundle of clothes and shoes at me. “He wouldn’t put them back on!” I leaned into the aisle and looked to the back of the chapel. You see, we were sitting in the second row, right up at the front, so I wouldn’t have to go far from the kids when I got up to speak. And all the way at the back of the room, I saw him strolling down the aisle, wearing nothing but a Curious George t-shirt and his glory be.
He loved Curious George at this phase in his life, and wanted to wear one of his three George shirts all the time. And like most small boys, he abhorred church clothes. Looking back, I realize it was a tender mercy that I didn’t push the clothing issue that morning before church and allowed him to keep the Curious George shirt on with his church clothes. Had I done so, we may well have crossed that line between having a child walking half naked in front of the entire congregation and striding fully buff before the Lord.
And I exaggerate. The entire congregation didn’t see him. Just half of it. And by another bit of grace, my counselor who was speaking at the time didn’t notice a thing. Completely oblivious, she attributed to stirring of the congregation to an unexpected level of engagement and attention to her talk.
In the meantime, the kid is walking along, taking his sweet time. I glanced up to the stand to see if I could look to my husband for any help. That was a vain thought. He and the bishop were doing everything they could to not break and laugh out loud. Both were red in the face, covering their mouths with their hands, trying to duck down behind the podium to hide their shaking bodies. I think there may have been tears.
There are moments in time where you ought to be mortified and painfully embarrassed, but because there isn’t a thing you can do about it, you just go ahead and let yourself enjoy the ridiculousness of the situation. This has happened to me at church before. It was a few months after we moved to our branch on Long Island and the older two kids were singing in the primary program. My husband had been conscripted to play the piano, so I was sitting alone in the congregation, watching the program. The kids had practiced singing Follow The Prophet or Book of Mormon Stories, or one of those songs with a million verses. Each kid was to sing one verse, with all of them singing the chorus. But they hadn’t practiced with the microphone, so when my daughter’s verse ended, she wasn’t prepared to give up the mike for the chorus. My son was to sing the next verse, and he wanted that microphone in his hot little hands as soon as possible. They ended up facing off, hands around each other’s throats, glaring murder into each other eyes, microphone forgotten. And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it but shrug my shoulders and laugh.
The little guy finally arrived. As soon as he was within reach, I whipped him into the pew as fast as I could and started stuffing him into his clothes. The talk ended, the children sang, and then I had to stand up and speak.
I’ve often heard that imagining your audience naked is a good way to ease the nerves of an anxious public speaker. I’ve never remembered to try that strategy, but I can tell you that actually seeing your child parade half naked in front of the audience is not an effective nerve calming strategy. It is, however, a fantastic ice breaker, and after thanking my primary teachers, especially the Sunbeam teachers who loved my little handful of a kid every single Sunday, I was able to settle into my previously planned remarks.
So there you have it. A Sunday from almost 4 years ago that my son mercifully cannot remember, but one that my congregation will never forget. Stories like this get repeated at ward parties for years, become part of the collective lore. The telling and retelling for our community identity, bind us together in humor and commiseration and friendship.
What are your unforgettable church stories? What tales do you swap around the potluck table?