Growing Up in Church - A Message to the Youth of GPPC

Blogger’s note: My memories of GPPC are from the decade of the 1960s, just prior to my leaving Richmond after graduating college in 1970.  GPPC was an important part of my social and spiritual upbringing at a time when all of those basic life tenets were being formed. This is one of my early memories:


My father glared down at me as I fought to stifle the giggle. My sister had started it. She always started it. She had no restraint, no “inside” voice. Some woman’s silly hat would almost fall off, a baby would make a loud burp, an old man would make one of those old man noises and my little sister would look at me with that wide-eyed grin of hers. I would hear the gurgles, which I knew preceded unfiltered laughter, start to escape from her.  It was impossible for me to resist joining in. She started it… but I always got the blame and the parental stink eye. After all, I was the oldest and I was supposed to know better than to be inattentive during one of Reverend John Brown’s sermons at Ginter Park Presbyterian. Never mind that Dr. Brown was preaching to a congregation half-filled with theologians from the nearby seminary and was preaching way over my adolescent head. The “look” meant there would be a quiz at lunch, so I had better pick up some key words and meaningful phrases quickly to prove that I had been listening after all.


Little did I know that those key words and meaningful phrases I had gathered to save myself from my father’s disapproval would stay with me to build a foundation of faith that would be both my rock and comfort when times required. I would, for example, think of the “power of prayer” when I had nowhere else to turn; would “let go of bitterness, rage and anger” when I wanted to lash out; would remember that “Love is patient” when I felt unloving or unloved.


My father would go on to be a deacon and elder at GPPC. I would remain active in the youth program. At the end of my college career, I even had the honor of directing a Bible-based play that drew an audience into the Fellowship Hall. But top of mind was always the collection of words and phrases stored in my head that I could draw upon when I was away from the nurturing environment of GPPC.


Though I have not had the opportunity to hear her speak, I understand from an earlier blog that GPPC’s current pastor has the ability to move a congregation with the conviction of her words. So, to the youth of GPPC, I say: Gather those key words and meaningful phrases. Hold on to the small things you hear that speak to you personally, that bring you comfort. Don’t worry about being distracted by the baby’s burp or the old man’s noise. It’s okay to find you have to stifle a giggle. But, keep those words and phrases handy; you will find them echoing just the right message in your head when you need it most.


Barbara Roukema Henn talks about her career in two parts: first as a high school English/Speech/Drama teacher for 18 years and then as an executive at two non-profit associations for 22 years. In between, she became mom to daughter, Holland, now 25. Though she and her husband live away from the Richmond area, she still thinks of GPPC as her church “home.” We look forward to her next visit!