The Divine Hours

Phyllis Tickle's THE DIVINE HOURS from


First Sundays: An Introduction

Written By Phyllis Tickle

The following reflection first appeared in September 2008 as part of  First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010.

My father, who was born in 1890, used to catalog for me—with remarkable regularity, in fact—the progression of Sabbath Days that gave form to time in his childhood. “First Sundays,” he would say, “First Sundays, the Methodist circuit rider always came and preached. Second Sundays was always afternoons, because the Presbyterian minister came out from town and preached to us after he had preached to his own congregation. Third Sundays there was an old, retired Baptist preacher who lived down the road and whose son went and fetched him to come preach, though there wasn’t much of a preacher left in the old man by then. Fourth Sundays, Papa always preached; and fifth Sundays we had a sing-in with lunch on the grounds afterwards.”

There was never much question in my mind, even as a child, that fifth Sundays had trumped all the rest for my father and his siblings. Nor was there any real question, even when he himself was in his sixties and seventies and still telling the tale that, for my father at least, it had been the fourth Sundays that most satisfied some part of him more than did the others. Today, we would parse that pleasure as a kind of benign pride on the part of an impressionable son. I also always suspected that somehow, in all those fourth Sundays of watching his own father serve as lay preacher, my father discovered a mold and/or discerned a pattern for what “lay” meant, a mold into which he did indeed pour his own adulthood.

When all was said and done, though, it was the first Sundays that reached out and grabbed my father’s imagination. When, years later, he would speak of first Sundays, I could always still see in his face and hear in his tone of voice the reverence with which a young, country boy and squire’s son had heard the words, “circuit rider.” It must have elicited in him the kind of romanticism and awe that “pirate” or “dinosaur hunter” elicits in youngsters now. It spoke of an itinerant life, unrooted and unencumbered, adventuresome, filled with the unpredictable, free and paid to be free as well as honored by God. What possible life could be a better life than that?

So it was that, when in 1905 the family moved into town, my father elected to join the Methodist Church, a denominational loyalty that he staunchly clung to until he married my Baptist mother. Since neither was willing to accommodate the other’s denominational particulars, they compromised by both becoming Presbyterian. The amusing thing, of course, was that the two of them became the most earnest and completely Presbyterian Presbyterians I ever knew or ever wanted to know; but that is another story.

This present story has a different point—at least a point of sorts—and that is to say that the mythos or romance of First Sundays has stayed with me for lo these many years, though I had never had an opportunity in which to explore it personally; but now has given me that opportunity. I’m not Methodist and I’m certainly no circuit rider, but I do propose to try becoming a 21st century, blogosphere-riding, First Sundays explorer of all things ecclesial and religious. In this endeavor, I hope two things: I hope I shall ride the circuit responsibly, and I hope you will ride it with me, commencing on October 5th when “First Sundays” will begin running in this space.

Copyright © 2010 Phyllis Tickle