For years now, I have been promising some friends that I would get this story up on my Web site. It’s based on a story told by Grace Mitchell, who wrote a column for many years in Early Education magazine. Mitchell was the founder of Green Acres Day Camp in Waltham, Massachusetts, a camp with a distinctly progressive Deweyan philosophy of education. I have adapted this camp story to church life; as I tell it, this story reflects my feeling that when church looks more like camp, it is more memorable to children. A good story to tell at the end of the church year.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Keilah and a boy named Kyle who lived with their parents in the second floor of an old house that looked out over the harbor. During the week, Kyle and Keilah went to school, and on Sunday they went to church. Kyle liked school, Keilah didn’t like school, but they both liked church. They liked going into the worship service with their parents and singing one of the hymns they knew as loud as they could. They liked listening to the things their minister read, even though they didn’t always understand them. They liked going to Sunday school to see their friends. They liked going to social hour where they drank hot chocolate and, when the weather was nice, went outside to play in the church’s labyrinth.
On the first day of the new church year, Keilah and Kyle went to their new Sunday school class. Keilah was only a year older than Kyle, and this year they would be in the same class together. Kyle did not want to go to the new Sunday school class. “I won’t know any of the kids,” he told his father as they were getting ready to go. “Can’t I go back to my old Sunday school class?” Keilah was not sure that she wanted Kyle to be in her Sunday school class. “Can’t we go to different Sunday school classes?” she said to her mother. But in the end, they wound up going to Sunday school together.
As usual, they stayed in the first part of the worship service for fifteen minutes with their parents. Then they left when all the other children left. They walked more slowly than anyone else, so when they got to their new classroom, ten other children and three grown-ups, their new Sunday school teachers, were already there. A pleasant-looking man welcomed them and said, My name is Joe. You must be Keilah and Kyle. You’re just in time to play a game.”
The way the game worked, Joe told them, was that everyone had to pick something in a grocery store that had the same first letter, or the same first sound, as their name. “So I’m Joe Jumbo Juice,” he said. “That’s my grocery store name.” Keilah decided her grocery store name was “Keilah Cantaloupe,” and Kyle was “Kyle Kale.” Joe stood in the middle with a pillow, and one person started by saying someone else’s grocery store name. Then that person tried to say someone else’s grocery store name before Joe tapped them with the pillow. If you got tapped before you could say someone else’s name, then you went in the middle. It was a really fun game. At one point, everyone was laughing because Hong Hot Chocolate managed to get Sam Salmon with the pillow while he was talking to the person next to him. Keilah turned to Kyle and whispered, “This is a great game!” Kyle said, “Yeah, I wish it would go on forever!” Suddenly they both heard a voice, a mysterious high-pitched echo-y voice, say, “Put it in your Golden Memory Box!” (Except the voice dragged out “golden” so it really sounded like this: “Put it in your Gooolden Memory Box!”)
“Did you say that?” Keilah whispered to Kyle.
But Kyle didn’t respond, because Sam Salmon had just tapped him with the pillow. Laughing, he went into the center of the circle, and the game kept going.
One Sunday in December, Joe, their favorite Sunday school teacher, told the class that the next week there would be no Sunday school. Kyle and Keilah started to frown, but Joe said, “Instead of Sunday school, kids get to stay in the entire worship service next week because there will be a No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant.”
Keilah asked what a “No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant” might be. Mr. Lee smiled mysteriously, and told them they would just have to come to church the next week and see for themselves.
The next Sunday, Keilah and Kyle were ready to go to church early, and told their parents to hurry up, because they wanted to know what a “No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant” might be. finally, they got to church, and at first everything was disappointingly the same as usual. Then the minister said it was time to start the No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant. She said that she would read the Christmas story, and people in the congregation would help her make it come alive by playing a part in the pageant. She said no one would have to speak, but if you volunteered for a part you’d get to wear a simple costume and stand up at the front of the church. Soon she came to the place where the Angel of the God of the Israelites spoke to the shepherds, and Keilah raised her hand high in the air, and the minister actually saw her and picked her to be the angel. She got to put on wings and a halo, and stand up in the pulpit looking down at everyone. Then the minister said she needed some animals who lived in the stable, and Kyle raised his hand when she asked for someone to be a camel, and she picked him. He got to go up front and wear a shaggy brown coat and put a plastic camel’s nose over his own nose.
It was the best pageant ever, and afterwards there were special snacks at social hour, including Christmas cookies. Their parents told them that since there were lots of cookies, they could have three cookies each, along with their hot chocolate. The cookies tasted very good washed down with hot chocolate. Keilah whispered to Kyle, “This has been the best Sunday ever. I wish this day could go on and on forever!” Suddenly they both heard a mysterious voice say, “Put it in your Gooolden Memory Box!”
“Who said that?” Kyle said.
They looked behind them, but there was no one there. And no one else seemed to hear the voice. So they just kept on nibbling their Christmas cookies and talking about the No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant.
In the spring, their Sunday school teachers arranged for their class to come to the church on a Saturday evening. They weren’t yet old enough to go on an overnight at the church, but this year they got to come in and have dinner together and play games. Some of the parents made dinner while all the kids helped set the table and get everything ready. Kyle even got to help arrange the flowers on the table. The food came out, and everyone sat down, and the minister said grace, and everyone started eating. After dinner, everyone helped clean up, and then they got out the games. Kielah and Kyle wound up playing Apples to Apples with the minister and her wife and some other kids. Then Joe, their favorite teacher, taught everyone a game called Spoons that was crazy and silly, where if someone got four cards of a kind you had to grab a spoon off the table. By now it was getting dark, and everyone played a game of Sardines that went all over the church building.
At last it was time for the closing worship service. It was ten o’clock, way past Kyle’s bed time, and he thought he might just like to fall asleep. But when they went into the sanctuary, it was lit only by candles and it looked so mysterious and beautiful that he rubbed his eyes and decided to stay awake. Joe played the guitar while they all sang the song “Evening Breeze,” and then Joe and the minister and some other grown-ups sang harmony parts that were so pretty that it made Keilah’s hair stand on end. Everybody lay on the floor while the minister told a story from the olden times. The minister blew out all but a few candles, and they lay on their backs looking up at the high ceiling. One by one, they all got to say what they thought about the story. Then there was a long time of silence that was broken by someone singing “There Is More Love Somewhere.” Soon everyone was singing, lying on their backs and singing up into the great dim empty space above them.
Kyle turned to Keilah and said, “I wish this night would go on forever!” “Me, too,” said Keilah. And then the both heard a mysterious voice calling, as if from a great distance, “Put it in your Gooolden Memory Box!”
But before they could wonder where the voice came from, the worship service was over and it was time to go home.
That summer, Keilah became very ill, and she had to go to the hospital. Kyle saw how worried his parents were, and he grew worried and scared, too. The minister came to see his parents, and hugged Kyle while she was there. Keilah was in the hospital for two weeks. When she came home at last, Kyle wasn’t allowed to see her right away. Finally he was allowed to go in to see his sister. “But you can’t stay too long,” his father said. “She’s still quite weak.” The room was dark, so Kyle didn’t see much, and Keilah didn’t say much.
As the days went by, Keilah got better, and stronger. She was still weak, and couldn’t get out of bed, but she was bored. Kyle came in to talk with her, and they played card games, and read stories together. That got boring after a day or two. Kyle kind of wanted to go outside and play with his friends, but he didn’t want to leave Keilah inside by herself, so he stayed with her.
“Boy, I am bored,” said Keilah.
“I wish we had something to do,” said Kyle.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came a mysterious, high-pitched echo-y voice. “Open your Gooolden Memory Box!” said the voice.
“Where did that voice come from?” said Keilah.
“I remember that voice!” said Kyle. “That’s the voice that we heard when we played that cool game, remember? The game where we had grocery store names.”
“I remember that game,” said Keilah. “I didn’t want it to ever end. And remember the No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant? I got to be the Angel.”
“Oh yeah, and I was the camel,” said Kyle.
And as they talked, they remembered more and more of the good things that had happened to them in the past year. They talked and they talked, and the time seemed to pass quickly. Before long, Keilah could get out of bed, and not long after that she could go outside to play again.
And from then on, whenever something really good happened, Keilah and Kyle remembered to put it in their golden memory box.