I’m not writing so much about God and Religion here, as I am about church- the organization- and my experiences with them. God will probably come into it, because He is,well, the reason for church, after all.
I was born into a family of Presbyterians. My father’s family could be considered Presbyterian Royalty, if there were such a thing. Ministers are in every generation all the way back to John Knox and John Calvin, and my great great grandfather was Hugh Cunningham (if you’re a Presbyterian from Texas, you’d know who he was. If you’re not, that’s ok, neither does anyone else who isn’t a TexPres, except the 27 people and companies in Texas named Hugh Cunningham, but that doesn’t have anything much to do with the Presbyterian church…try googling it and you’ll see what I mean), who brought Presbyterianism (thus True Religion, much to the irritation of the Baptists, who were already there when he showed up with his Calvinist Ways) to Texas even before it was a state, back when it was called The Republic of Texas.
Did you follow all that? Now that my dubious pedigree is established, on to more current and relevant stuff.
BTW, Terry amused by all this pedigree stuff, and the importance placed on it by my family. He is, and always will be even though we attend a Presbyterian church, a Free Will Baptist. Which is about as far from a Predestination Presbyterian as you can get and still call yourself a Christian. Fortunately for the sake of our marriage, I am not hard-core Calvinist, but more of a Methodist, but I prefer the Presbyterian liturgy and most of the Westminster Catechism (here’s the short version, if you’re interested.), which is a statement of belief. An even shorter version would be The Apostle’s Creed, which I see as a lovely concise statement of belief, nice and compact, and gets it all in there in a manageable way.
I grew up going to Presbyterian churches. The earliest one I remember was in Champaign, Illinois. About all I remember of that one was that it’s very contemporary architecture, and how I’d run up to the front after the service to blow out the fat candles and dip my fingers in the melted wax. I also remember that we’d ride our bikes to the services, if the weather permitted. And how I’d balk at wearing a dress. That had nothing to do with church, though. I always balked at wearing dresses.
Then we moved to Athens, Georgia. We started out going to a church (Friendship Presbyterian) that was near our house, then (as I learned was to become the normal thing) there was some sort of disagreement between my parents and the church leadership (or something), we left and went to First Presbyterian. First Pres was the church I attended during my high school years. During that time, a new associate pastor was hired, fresh out of seminary. He was, shall we say, (in the late 70’s teenage vernacular) Quite A Fox. One fine Sunday, it was the first time he was actually leading the service and giving the sermon. I and a couple of friends had come to know him fairly well,and promised him we’d sit on the front row as his cheering section. Midway during his sermon, we began making kind of horrified faces, and pointing toward his zipper (he was walking all over the stage-or whatever you call it in a church), making up and down motions, indicating his fly was open. He kept preaching, but turned bright red and stood behind the podium so he could check it. Where he realized that he was wearing his vestments (long black robe, etc). Calling the look he gave us “murderous” would be an understatement. We, of course, thought it was hysterical.
Between my junior and senior years of high school, we moved to Auburn, Alabama. We briefly attended the Presbyterian church there, but soon realized it was Too Liberal (or something). I am not sure why we quit going there, only that there was a fundamental difference of opinion between my parents and the other congregants. I was totally ok with that, because the youth group was comprised of 5 people who took great delight in putting me down for not being able to play a musical instrument with any proficiency. Never mind that I could sing rings around any of them (many years of voice training and a 4 octave range, but that meant nothing because apparently any goob could sing). We went across the street to the Methodist Church, and I quit participating in any youth organization. I like the Methodist sensibility, and it’s emphasis on order (method) and quiet evangelism.
However, that did not stop me from quitting church altogether at 18. As an adult (well, sort of…the law saw me that way) I was free to make my own decision, and I decided church was a waste of time and all this God Stuff was cramping my style. So all that got put away for a few years.
Then I met Terry, and we decided to marry. Which meant we needed a church. I was still a member of the Methodist church,and he saw no reason to change that. We attended, he did some work for them, and we were married there. Well, not THERE there, but by the minister of that church. Which lead to a brief and intense moment of excitement the day of our wedding. My grandparents (remember, Presbyterian Royalty) showed up the day of the wedding, and my grandmother asked the minister if he was PCA (Presbyterian Church of America- the Conservative Ones) or PCUSA (The Liberal Ones). Rev. Miller said he was neither, that he was Methodist. Grandmother Disapproved, and briefly considered leaving. I am not sure what convinced her to stay, but they did and I am glad of that.
A year later we moved to Tenille, Georgia, where Terry had his first job after graduating college.We sporadically attended the Methodist church there, but I didn’t enjoy it and really didn’t particularly feel like belonging to a congregation. I did it out of that ingrained sense of obligation. I’d always been a member of a church, therefore I was always meant to. Like it or not. Terry didn’t push it, bless him.
18 months and a baby later, we moved to Cordele, Ga. Methodist church, sporadic attendance, and a failed attempt to join the Women of the Church (I was new, and Cordelians were suspicious of anyone they hadn’t gone to Kindergarten with). 2 years and another baby later, we moved to Monroeville, Alabama. For some reason I got it into my head that I was going to be A Good Wife, and attend the church my husband was raised in. We visited a single Baptist church, and was visited by the preacher a couple of days later. He asked about my background and upon discovering that I was raised Presbyterian, said I would have to be baptized. I told him I’d already been baptized, and he disagreed. While I was in the process of puffing up like an offended toad, Terry said a couple of diplomatic things and saw him to the door. I stomped and snorted for a bit, and asked if, since I wasn’t married in the Baptist church and marriage is a sacrament just like Baptism, did that mean our 2 children were illegitimate and every time I’d taken communion I was faking it? Terry calmed me down and said we’d stick with Methodism.
This time it was better. The pastors were a husband-and-wife team that the congregation was united in their dislike of (yes, Ruth, I know I am ending sentences in prepositions). Fortunately, Methodist ministers are moved around every 4 years or so, so we knew what was really important was the congregation, and not the pastors. The next pastor was the one I hold closest to my heart, for he saw me through the most difficult period of my entire life, with compassion and wisdom, and through example showed the entire church what it means to show God’s love to His entire creation, not just other people who go to church. He also wore electric purple silk shirts, and took my awkward and lonely 2nd grade son fishing. His ability to show God’s love in a real and wise way rekindled my interest in God, and I am thankful that God used such a man in my life.
After 6 years, we moved again to Auburn, Alabama, where we rejoined the church we’d been married in. It had changed dramatically in those years, growing from a church of about 500 to one with over 5000 members. Some of the Old Guard (the pre-5000 ones) were still there, and knowing a few folks made the difference in staying or finding something of a more manageable size. We both disliked the massive worship services (3 per Sunday, each with 1000+ attending),because they were so impersonal, and no one every knew if you were there or not. We quit attending worship, but would come for Sunday school- classes of maybe 15-20, and people noticed if you were there- and I participated in mid-week Disciple studies and played in the handbell choir. I understand the appeal (I think) of these massive churches. Comfort in numbers, I suppose. The pastor there was…I don’t know…Squishy feel-good or something. His wife taught art at the local middle school, and Highly Disapproved of my free-thinking children who wouldn’t make art the way she wanted them to. Art which hangs on my walls because not only is it theirs, it’s Quite Good. I was not enamored of his feel-good sermons, and wanted some meat, some Biblical teaching, something more than “God loves you,so y’all be nice, now”
9 years later, we moved here, to Deepest South Georgia. For 4 years, we did not attend a church. We would go sporadically to this one or that, but none of them had the warmth and sense of community I so desperately wanted. I have a dear friend here, who knew we weren’t in a church, and knew we needed one. She harassed me every time I saw her, telling me to get to a church, find one, when was I going to get my child in a church, all those things Good Church Women say of to people like me. I needed harassing, too. Finally, one day she’d had her fill my lack of church-going-ness and (she’s Ethiopian, not White American) and said the one thing she knew would get me off my sorry ass and into a church. “Peggy, you are a White European Heathen Why aren’t you in church?” and I said OK FINE…I’LL GO. So, because Terry is nice that way, we visited the local Presbyterian church- the PCA (conservative, like just about hard-core Calvinist) one, not the SquishyLiberal PCUSA one. And…it was like walking into a family reunion held at Grandmother’s house. A small church with about 250 member, we were immediately recognized as visitors and greeted and asked who we were and welcomed and made to feel like people were genuinely happy to see us there. Even with the various doctrinal differences, we were welcomed.
It isn’t the kind of church that says “show up and you’re a member”. You take a class, where you can argue and ask questions and the various doctrines and beliefs of the church are explained. Then you’re interviewed by the Session to see where you stand in your faith, and they decide if you are accepted as a communing (that is, allowed to take communion) member. Now, if you are not accepted as a communing member (because you don’t believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior- refer to The Apostle’s Creed) that does not mean you cannot come to church. Anyone can come, I mean, that’s what we want, for people to come, to hear the message, all that. So don’t think it’s some Exclusive Club. You should see the people there, you would know right away there’s no exclusivity going on. It is…for me…Home. A return to the comfort of a familiar liturgy (the way the service is performed) with familiar hymns and prayers, and a simple unadorned sanctuary. I am back in Church again, and I don’t ever want to leave.