It was the middle of winter, but it wasn’t very cold outside. And so, even though there was just an old wood stove to warm it, the church was comfortable that day. Well, the pews were still hard and squirmy, and it was still a Spartan looking kind of place, but the temperature was all right.
When the service was over, the congregation all paraded out, blinking in the sunlight. They formed up on the plateau where the church was built. The church was most of the way up a hill. The ground fell away toward the town and the lake beside it. And above them, it climbed up until it became farmland and flattened out.
Everything had a thick covering of snow on it, including the church and the houses of the town. Because the landscape reflected so much sunlight, it shimmered and glared. It was hard to look at without squinting.
The congregants were dressed plainly and most of them also had snow pants on. In the summer, the women all wore dresses, but it wasn’t practical in the winter, so they wore snow pants instead. Even though the parishioners were all dressed the same, it was still easy to pick the men from the women. The women uniformly had long hair, and the men all had beards and hats.
In contrast, the children all looked quite a bit alike. But the girls still had long hair, like all the grown women did also. So even though it might take longer, it was still possible to figure out who was who, just by looking at the hair.
Once their eyes were accustomed to the light, some of the children started tossing themselves down the hill. Soon, all the children were doing it, and a few of the adults had joined in as well. They were generally a somber bunch, but they let themselves go after church when they slid down the hill.
After a few minutes, the minister had put his snow pants on and was outside with them. A few of the children had climbed back up to the top of the hill to go down again. However, most of the children and all of the adults that had slid down, just stood waiting at the bottom of the hill.
The minister never went down himself. He usually just smiled about it. He just stood at the top of the hill, laughing at the children and adults that were sliding down, and making jokes with the other mature or timid souls who were gathered around the front of the church.
That morning, however, he smiled broadly, and then lowered himself onto the snowy ground, so that he could carefully slide down the hill. He wasn’t particularly fast or daring, but no one could remember him even trying before. When he reached the bottom, he just put his feet out in front of him, and then he sprang back up. If he’d been going faster, then digging his feet into the snow at the bottom would have been painful and jarring. And probably would flipped him over completely.
But he’d been running his hands along in the snow all the way down the hill to slow himself, so digging his feet in wasn’t any problem. When he was back on his feet, he spread his arms wide and smiled, and when the clapping started he actually bowed, folding an arm beneath his waist.
It became a kind of tradition. He didn’t go down every Sunday, but until he got too old and frail, he tried for once a month. As a group, they didn’t become any less dour. However, they remembered that the minister sometimes slid down the hill, and they thought that was very funny.