Revisiting Church Basements

Some time ago, after the release of my first book Simply the Savior, I was invited to give a message to a fellowship of ladies in a small local congregation. I arrived before the appointed time and found my way down to the basement of the little church where they had their meetings.

You haven’t been there, but you’ve been there. Cinder block walls, linoleum floor, tiny windows letting in just a bit of natural light to supplement the fluorescent lighting, and brown folding chairs set up around collapsible banquet tables. Immediately my attention was drawn to the one feature of the room with the most promise: the big open window between the main room and the church kitchen. Coffee pots were already perking away on that spacious window counter when I arrived, the sound and the aroma taking me back to so many other church basements I’ve visited over the years.

At the church in East Tennessee where I grew up, the church basement was called the Fellowship Hall, but it was still the church basement. I remember everything from youth group meetings to Girl Scout fly-up ceremonies and talent shows being held in that basement—a center of community life for sure.

Many brides on a budget even opted to have their receptions there. As kids we’d stand on the stairs leading down to the basement in our finest clothes waiting our turn to go through the receiving line to see the beautiful bride and her handsome groom up close. Then we’d work our way through the crowd to the same folding tables used for every event—but now draped with lace tablecloths and festooned with ribbon garlands. There we’d find such delights as bowls of pastel-colored mints, nuts, wedding cake with sugary icing, and punch sweet enough to knock us right out of our patent leather shoes! On the counter under the big window, those coffee pots would be perking away.

As the ladies filtered in to that gathering where I was to speak, I noticed several of them were pulling portable oxygen tanks along behind them. Others had canes or walkers. A wave of sadness passed over me then as I thought, when these ladies are gone, no one will be gathering in church basements anymore. No one will be hosting potluck dinners and swapping recipes for tuna casserole or pineapple upside-down cake. It will be the end of an era.

But sometime after that I found out my “doom and gloom” prediction just wasn’t true! Due to a scheduling mix-up at our church, our women’s Bible study group had to move our closing potluck luncheon from the room we had planned on using to, you guessed it, the church basement. In keeping with our luau theme, my co-leader and I were taping grass skirts along the counter under the big window (where some wonderful potluck dishes would soon be arrayed) when I realized that, praise God, women’s fellowships and church basements are both still thriving! And oh, yes—there was coffee, too.Church basement ladies

Just recently I learned that the church basement culture I cherish inspired a musical comedy! “Church Basement Ladies” premiered in 2005 and has six sequels to date. Long live the church basement!


  1. Deanna L. says:

    Dear Nanc;y, Such a perfect topic, and who would have thought of it, but you! I’m a 78 yr. old Great-Grandmother who remembers! AND, in my memories, those were the BEST. Intimacy and the pride of BEING WITH JESUS PREVAILED in the midst of TRUE BELIEVERS, REVELING IN THE JOY OF THE LORD! THX, NANCY!
    Deanna L.

  2. Peggy Ellis says:

    Church basements! Oh the memories you bring this morning, Nancy! Many of my 20 years in a Sunday School nursery were in basements. I retired when my former babies started bringing their own babies to me. The most devout people to obey Luke 10:37 are babies: When one started crying the others obeyed: “Go and do thou likewise”!

    Another comment on Puppy Tales: A recent conversation between my niece and her three-year-old son: “Mommy, can we get a dog?” “No, Sammy.” “Why not?” “Because Daddy doesn’t like dogs.” Mommy used the first excuse that came to mind. “Can we send Daddy away and get a new daddy who likes dogs?” Mommy didn’t tell me how she answered that!

  3. Those were good times…we still enjoy them with Bistro 55+!!

  4. Nancy, you took me back to my childhood church basement, where I learned what tater tots were and how good they tasted! (And Mrs. Brown’s glazed donuts.) It was a delightful place.

  5. Long live those church basements, Nancy! I know that coffee pot countertop and brown folding chairs well. Thank you for the nostalgia and the inspiration. HUGS! Beth

  6. Eileen Somers says:

    Thanks for bringing back some wonderful childhood memories of chicken dinners, bridal showers, bingo, and my Mom’s 75th birthday celebration that so surprised her we feared she would have a heart attack. I still love church basements and all they have meant to so many of us.

  7. Elizabeth Van Liere says:

    Hmmm. Can’t seem to remember the church basements. The church I attend now has a huge fellowship hall where these happenings, like those you mention, occur. Happily, the food is still great and the fellowship still means meeting with friends. .

  8. alice ferguson says:

    No one does this recapturing and reminiscing
    with more grace and humor than you do, Nancy.
    Such a slice of tradition served up with tenderness,
    a twinkle in your eye and lashings of hope
    that the best things in life live on!!!!

  9. Linda Schauer says:

    Dear Nancy,
    Now that article sure took me back!! I remember our church basement for parties and ladies luncheons, but the one that really made my memory tingle was the Girl Scout fly-ups. I remember feeling so proud. Thanks for the Church basement memory.

  10. Charlie Fusco says:

    What memories. God bless the church ladies who have kept these events humming all their adult lives. Thank you for keeping it going for them now.

  11. As always a fun read. Your commenter, Alison Ferguson also has a charming talent in the use of words. I always enjoy the comments left by others. Thanks Nancy, hope your first day of Spring was a delight.

  12. David Freehling says:

    You touched my heart with your description of the holy places which are church basements (and “parlors,” and halls). I see, now, where your son Tim gets his heart for people and for the Lord.

Share Your Thoughts