Learning to Love Nashville
Churches are to Nashville what gas stations are to L.A. They’re everywhere, sometimes two or three to an intersection, just in case you need to pull in and fill ’er up. On Sunday mornings there are actually traffic jams outside some churches. As a result, some of the larger congregations hire off-duty police officers to direct traffic, and more than one church owns a set of traffic cones. I’m not making this up.
When Yvonne and I moved from L.A. to Nashville, we learned that in the South, the church is still a fundamental building block of the community. Among other things, it’s a good place to go if you want to meet your neighbors, and so that’s what we did. When we arrived, we planned to attend a number of churches before picking one but didn’t get any further than our first try, West End United Methodist (shown here). Housed in a handsome stone edifice near Vanderbilt University, West End had a wonderful preacher, a stately service, a top-notch music program, and twenty-seven adult Sunday school classes.
In other parts of the country, Sunday school is a place where you drop off your kids, but in the South it’s much more than that. The class we attended that first week was discussing healthcare issues, and class members included doctors, attorneys, executives, writers, musicians, school administrators, and several ordained clergy. It was a remarkable group, and to this day some of them remain our closest friends.
We asked what had brought this particular group together and were told that most of them had stopped attending church as adults, then returned because of their children. They wanted their kids to have a church experience and in the process had found that they wanted one, too.
If we had been paying closer attention that morning, we might have noticed a whiff of something sweet. It was family, and it permeated the air in Nashville. This wasn’t the “family values” used by politicians to club voters over the head during election campaigns, but instead a quiet appreciation for fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, stretching back over the years and across the land. Southerners have their flaws, but one of their great strengths is a sense of belonging, to kin, to place, to neighbors. It gives them roots and explains why, unlike many Californians, they tend to stay put.
We learned to love Nashville, where we were surrounded by woods, not utility poles; where we drove to work past trees and streams, not strip malls. I became reacquainted with my Southern cousins, and Yvonne started telling people she’d moved for the last time. In the midst of all this, the subject of children came up again.
We shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, as any Southerner can tell you, when you start putting down roots, thoughts of family can’t be far behind.
From Dream Baby: The Miraculous Story of Our Daughter Maggie’s Birth