The Lord’s Prayer-No Trespassing

This is an essay I wrote about 10 years ago, when I wanted to record some memories of my childhood for my mother Margaret Barbour.  For many pleasant years, we lived in the pretty neighborhood of Mountain Drive, across Williams Street from Grace Church. I’d estimate that this took place was when I was around 10 years old.

I thought this essay would relate to the Adult Sunday School Class’s study of The Lord’s Prayer.

One of my best friends Carol and her family attended the pink Catholic Church Sacred Heart on Elm Street.  My parents were raising me in a Protestant household that adhered to the sovereignty of Scripture.  As a Catholic, Carol was not  really supposed to come to my church at the top of Mountain Drive, Grace Church.  But, sometimes I went with her to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at Sacred Heart.  I went with her because I was her friend, but it was also my way of whiling away the time until Christmas morning, when I could open presents.  She and her siblings were allowed to open presents on Christmas Eve!  I could not believe how unfair that was.  I came to believe that Catholics and Protestants were very different indeed philosophically.  Were Protestants called that because they weren’t allowed to open presents on Christmas Eve and Catholics were? And the Protestants protested because it wasn’t fair?  The mind of my childhood tried to make sense of the facts as they appeared to me.

Another difference I noticed between Catholics and Protestants was that when we said the Lord’s Prayer at Grace Church, we said “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  At Sacred Heart, the Catholics said “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  To me, these sentences meant very different things, and I tried to figure out how they were applicable to either the Protestant Way or the Catholic Way.

“Forgive us our debts …” I knew that my father did not believe in having debts.  He paid in full the price of his house and his car, and everything else.  Using credit was unacceptable. He did not have credit cards or a checking      account.  He did not loan anyone money so in that way prevented them from having debts with him. I concluded that this was because of his religious beliefs. So, that must mean that to a Protestant, debts are evil, and one must never have them or cause others to have them.  If you ever had a debt, it needed to be forgiven, because it was a sin.  If someone had a debt with us, we had to forgive it so God would forgive us.  This was in accordance with the Protestant prayer, I thought.

As for the Catholic “trespasses” version of the Lord’s Prayer, I assumed it meant that if you were Catholic, you did not like people walking across your property.  No Trespassing.  Even though Carol was one of my two best friends, I did not walk across her family’s property next door, out of respect for this part of the Catholic prayer.  To complicate matters, the family on the other side of our house was also Catholic, so I did not walk through their yard, either.  Since we lived on the corner between them, that meant that there was a very narrow place through which I could actually walk from our property to non-Catholic, trespassable land in the middle of the circle of Richard Drive.  I had to step over the place where the two corners of their land met. But, I didn’t have the heart to do it very often, afraid that I would be in violation of another Catholic family’s yard.

On the other hand, I didn’t mind walking through my other best friend Linda’s yard across the street, and on to the pretty cow pasture and brook behind her house.  Trespassing did not apply; her family was Episcopalian. I assumed that because they were Protestant, they did not mind trespassing, but didn’t like debt.  No problem for me.  I felt morally correct as I walked through their yard. If they saw me and wondered what on earth I was doing, they did not say anything about it.

Did I ever ask an adult about this?  No, I just came to my own conclusion.

Although I have since learned that the difference between the two statements in the Lord’s Prayer is just semantic – and guess what, the Episcopalians do say “Trespasses” – it still affects me in that I have a dread of making people pay me back for anything they owe me.  So, I am still trying to forgive my debtors.

This and other incidents of my misinterpretations or over-interpretations have taught me that my mind can make up stories to explain the facts as they appear to me.  My interpretations may be just that – stories, and fictional ones at that.  I have only learned this about myself in recent years. So, now I take my own stories with a few grains of salt.


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Grace Church Congregational

1055 Williams Street

Pittsfield, MA 01201