When I was growing up, my family went to a Christian church of the generic, non-denominational, middle of the road variety. This was good for a number of reasons--that is to say, it could have been worse. The church was formed in the mid-sixties, and my parents were founding members. Like many churches of its type, it began in someone's home, continued in an elementary school gym, and then grew large enough to progress to its own building. Land was purchased and a building was built. It's been remodeled and additions have been made, but inside it is much the same as it was back then. It sits on a hill a mile from my door.
Back in the day, between my own children's activities and being there while my parents were in their meetings, I was at church a lot. Usually my time there was supervised, but on occasion my mom or dad's class or choir practice would run late. This meant playing and/or roaming around with one of my childhood best friends, Jeff. We practically met at birth, went to the same schools, went to the same church, were in band and plays together, and are great friends to this day. I recently quizzed him about the following story, and he remembers it as I do, and can vouch for its accuracy. We were, indeed, mistaken for Satan!
When we were about seven years old, Jeff and a few other kids and I were wandering around behind the scenes at church. It was late (to us, anyway), and we went exploring in the more mysterious places in the building. We went into the sanctuary, where the windows were dark and the only light on was up in the front, a spotlight on the cross on the wall above the baptistry. Our church was one that believed strongly in full-fledged dunking, so there was a little mini pool elevated up there. When there was a baptism in church, you would see the minister and the "baptizee" emerge from some unseen stairs, and step down into the water. They were dressed in white robes, and could be seen from the waist up. The person being baptized would be dipped back, like in a dance, and then he or she would come up soaked (doused by heavenly father, wet with salvation). This was something I did at age fifteen, but that is a story for another time. I suppose I should tell it.
On this night, we walked up the center aisle and went up the steps past the pulpit. We stood up on a pew that was up there so we could look down into the water. The single light reflected little waves up on the cross. It looked spooky, and we were loving it. We wondered if there was something magic in there, in the water where grown-ups dunked each other and sometimes children and there was supposed to be some change that happened when you came out of it. We wondered if something bad would happen if you touched the water when you weren't being baptized. We tentatively stuck the tips of our fingers to the water's surface, then all the way in, then we were splashing in the water with our hands and arms. Nothing happened. No burning. No magic.
Bored with that, we went back into the choir room, then the room where people got dressed for baptism, the library... Dark rooms that seemed more interesting than they did in the day. It turned out that we kids weren't the only ones who found the church slightly creepy at night. We knew that adults felt the same way, based on what happened next.
We started down the hallway leading by a few offices toward the only door that had light spilling out of it. We treaded lightly so as not to attract attention and possibly be shooed away to a playroom or worse, taken to our parents' boring Bible study class, or whatever. However, in the dark one of the other kids (not me or Jeff--we're the ones telling the story after all) knocked into a shelf of cubbies filled with choir sheet music, and made a noise.
That's when we heard it. The movement in the lit office stopped suddenly, and we knew we'd been heard. We froze in our places, just knowing we were about to be busted by the church secretary or someone. Then we heard a voice, not the secretary, though. It was a man's voice, and it said clearly, strongly, dead-seriously..."SATAN???" We stared at each other in awe, in the dim light.
Like a flock of birds moving precisely and suddenly, we simultaneously bolted down the hallway, into the side door of the sanctuary, down one of the side aisles, and back into safety in the fellowship hall.
We literally fell on the floor dying laughing. Not only were we incredulous about being taken for the prince of darkness (if I were referring to Ozzy, I would capitalize the title out of respect--you see, I actually believe in Ozzy), but also we could not believe who had done the mistaking.
It was the pastor!
The minister of our church heard a bump in the hall, on a Sunday night when there were still people in the building, and his mind immediately leaps to Lucifer, Beelzebub, that is the enemy, the devil. Yikes.
Even at this young age, even though on some level we were believers, we grasped the ludicrous nature of this situation, and made the connection that our very level-minded, not crazy, salt of the earth minister had had encounters with who/what he thought was Satan.
I would go on in life to feel as though I had encounters with some kind of evil, if not the big red man himself. Otherwise rational people from all stages of my life taught me how to deal with such encounters, and I listened, and I believed. I own it.
But then, at age seven, rolling on the floor in tears with my friends...
...it was hilarious.