community, women

The last church lady

The last church lady of my childhood acquaintance died in May. She was 87 and still full of the mix of “Send the Light” mercy and sterner stuff that comedian Dana Carvey so brilliantly satirized on Saturday Night Live.

Danger in a box — unless one is a true church lady.

When I first met this brand of church lady, my family was returning from a couple decades spent in California to my mother’s Chicago-area hometown. So great was these women’s formidability, it was unimaginable then that their kind would one day disappear.

Formidability? Honestly, they were a bit scary. They really did wear polyester suits and have their hair “set” once a week at a “beauty shop.” My mother, a Californian by choice, was the opposite. She wore maxi dresses and knee high boots and reddish hair that she “tinted” herself. She was (and is) a believer, but never a “church lady.”

They mixed well enough, though. Likely because, as a pastor’s daughter, my mother had the bonafides to teach Sunday School and do the occasional stint as the church treasurer. But, the difference fascinated me, even then. I watched these church ladies like a hawk, trying to figure out their mysterious ways.

They weren’t nearly as simple (or as mean) as Carvey portrayed them, I realized quickly enough. One wrote poetry and was still somehow maintaining a figure like Sophia Loren when I last saw her. She would have been in her 70s then. Another refused to tell her age and was represented in every church circular that involved photos by an image taken in her 20s.

And, they could all cook like Martha Stewart. All of them. In quantities large enough to feed a platoon. Church potlucks came one Sunday a month. The tantalizing smells that drifted into the sanctuary made even grown men squirm through sermons that seemed to be without end. For children, it was torture, then bliss.

Once, when I was in my 20s and writing about food, I took a day off work to “help” with the annual nut roll fundraiser. It was a multi-thousand-dollar affair that involved working the church kitchen’s four ovens so hard the fellowship hall was literally smoking by the end of the day.

I was assigned to wrap cooled rolls in aluminum foil. About 15 minutes in, I managed to slice my thumb open on that terrifying serrated edge such foil boxes involve. The chief of the church ladies appeared with a box of Band-Aids and pointed me to the restroom without a word. When I returned, I was re-assigned to a safer job packaging orders.

That was the stern side. Yet, when I married, another church lady spent hours on her knees re-doing the flower beds outside the church’s front door. My childhood church ladies, who were were just beginning to die at that point, realized this wedding was special. Indeed, it was the last the little church would host. It, like the church ladies, is now gone.

Yes, the last church lady of my childhood acquaintance died in May. She will be missed.

18 thoughts on “The last church lady”

    1. Thanks! It is sad when small churches close. I no longer live in that part of the U.S., but there are two small churches in our neighborhood that are so beautiful, but empty. One is now a gift shop. The other may become a bank of all things. I think there’s a scripture that fits that latter one. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  1. How sad to hear about the end of an era, Nora. I must admit, now we live in a village, we notice more about how a community comes together & keeps various aspects of village life going, which includes the church. Thankfully, we still have a monthly service, & there is fundraising within the village that contributes to its upkeep. Iโ€™m not particularly religious but attend when I can because it would be so sad if it was permanently closed. Like your last church lady, there are a few stalwarts who have done much to keep a small congregation coming back, arranging flowers & making teas & light refreshments..they should be treasured.

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    1. Amen to that. I suspect everyone lives in a village whether they know it or not. Small churches and schools surely matter. God bless every church lady who remains — including you. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Nora. Yes, I guess youโ€™re right, itโ€™s just less noticeable in the city, as the churches & church halls are generally used more broadly by various organisations. Here, there arenโ€™t enough willing participants for a lot of activities, but we do what we can. ๐Ÿ˜Š

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know if I would count as a “church lady” of the type you’re speaking. But I did cook many a meal, dish, cake, pie, et al for many a pot luck or homecoming at our little church. Sad to say, traditional churches are slowing dying but the heart of any church is what made those little church ladies “tick.” That heart is one with the Savior, Christ Jesus. He gave the drive needed to cook those dishes, fellowship when worn out and frazzeled to the bone, weed the flower bed, fix communion, and clearn up after. Fix the fellowship hall for that sweet girl’s wedding (as they did for my sweet girls). On and on the tale goes. I’m 80. I’m a church lady that no longer has the stuff it takes to do all those things. But I so appreciate the fellowship that came from knowing other church ladies with their enduring grace and generosity.

    Thank you for a lovely article. I totally enjoyed it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are absolutely a church lady — you even have the name to prove it. ๐Ÿ™‚ And, you’re right. Right hearts lead to right deeds — small church or big church. Have a blessed day!


  3. I loved it. I remember those โ€œchurch ladiesโ€ as well. They came in all shapes and sizes and dispositions.
    I donโ€™t think I ever was one either. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is so wonderfully depicted and expressed! Delightful. I felt like I was there. Isn’t it wonderful that we will enjoy together forever? I bet those church ladies will continue their amazing cooking and baking forever!


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