Childhood, Fear, Holiness Standards, Rapture, Salvation, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

My Salvation Story

We started attending The United Pentecostal Church in Madison Wisconsin when I was 8. At first we only went on Sunday morning and we rode the Sunday school bus. Someone from the church came by our apartment one day looking for people who might be interested in attending Sunday school. Some Sundays my mother would not answer the door and other Sundays she would take me out to the bus. I think she liked the church but felt guilty about it because it did not line up with her Church of God beliefs. In the end, we went more and more until we were going all the time. We went Sunday morning and evening, plus Thursday night. At this point people were pretty nice to us, probably because they were trying to get their hooks in. Love bombing works.

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts you know that I grew up with a constant fear of hell and the rapture. The seeds of all that fear were planted long before I ever set foot in Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church. All that fear was only made worse by the fire and brimstone preaching that often happened on Sunday nights. The night I walked that long road to the altar is burned in my mind. I was 10 years old. We were seated in the second to the back row of the sanctuary. My mother was never a front row woman. Pastor John Grant was preaching about how your name is written on the gates of hell until Jesus takes it off. I was scared out of my mind. When the altar call was given I sat there and debated with myself about whether or not I should go forward. I was a shy child and the thought of walking down in front of all of those people was pretty awful. My fear of hell was worse than my fear of walking forward so forward I went. It felt like it took me forever to get down to the front and when I did I was immediately covered with women. They gathered around me and walked me through the sinner’s prayer of repentance. My only comfort was the presence of some of my Sunday School teachers, although I had never seen them this worked up. After I said my prayer then the rejoicing started. This meant loud wailing and speaking in tongues. Hands pushing me back and forth in a swaying motion. They wanted me to speak in tongues and eventually I did. When I started stammering the sounds of the women around me got even louder. Scary loud. I felt accepted and safe if only for an instant. As soon as this calmed down then they wanted me to get baptized. In the UPC church they get you in that water as fast as they can because if the rapture were to happen or you were to die unbaptized you would not be saved. I knew the drill and got baptized. They let me pick which minister I wanted to baptize me. I don’t know if they let everyone pick or if they let me because I was so young. I chose the minister that was the least threatening to me.

Our baptismal tank was behind the choir pews. Everyone would gather around and watch you get baptized and clap and sing and speak in tongues. After it was all over people came up and congratulated me. I felt high. I know that it was endorphins causing that feeling. I chalked it up to my new-found salvation. That feeling lasted about a week. In the church of my childhood you were never really saved, not for good. You could always lose your salvation through sinning. Over and over I cried out to god for forgiveness. I remember my pastor preaching about a dream he had. The rapture was happening in his dream and he could not rise any higher than the ceiling of his bedroom. Why? Because he was not godly enough. My child mind soaked up all such messages and they fueled my constant fear of what might keep me out of heaven. Our church encouraged us to repent for sins we might not be aware of just in case we forgot something. At ten years old I did not see god as a loving god, I saw him as a score keeper.

Are you seeing the overall theme? Fear. Whether it was the pastor’s sermons, the week-long revivals, or the yearly viewing of those awful movies, my church experience was soaked in fear. Did I forget to repent of some sin? How long had it been since I had spoken in tongues? Was I living godly enough. Tough questions for a 10-year-old. Once I knew the difference between right and wrong I was old enough to be accountable. Pile all of that fear on top of the poverty and my parents marriage issues and life was pretty hard. Being in the UPC church magnified my problems.

From that moment on my life changed. Not in a good way. I embraced the church’s holiness standards with gusto. I tried to live as close to the rules as possible. Next time I will post about that part of my journey.

If you are a UPC survivor I would love to hear from you. Does my childhood experience sound like yours?


7 thoughts on “My Salvation Story”

  1. Oh yes, all about the fear. As a PK, and a bright, logical, analytical thinker, I had the devil of a time speaking in tongues. I knelt and begged at the alter as a child until the nylon church carpet caused blood blisters on my knees. No luck. I finally, in desperation and by the grace of god, spoke in tongues at bible school when I was 18. Now I realize it was not even a requirement for salvation. How ignorant to do this to a child.


    1. It puts an incredible amount of pressure on a child. I was a pretty sensitive child and I was very shy. It was hard to jump through all of the hoops that they require impart because it man’s going through these things in a very public way with people loudly speaking in tongue’s and surrounding me.


  2. These stories are so sad but real, I was raised UPC. I remember as a child watching the series of movies @ Church called ” Left behind ” It was terrifying as a child. I was so afraid that God would come. I had not spoken in tongues and would burn in hell, after those movies the altar would be full of all people just sobbing and pleading for God to save us from that awful lake of fire.


    1. Yep that is what I experienced. I heard someone recently point out that those movies are not made for the lost but they are made to keep the saved in line. I think that is true. The altar was always filled with church members recommitting themselves to god.


  3. I do want to say first: You are extremely resilient. You are a miracle. Your ability to teach yourself what you were not taught and given at the church’s school is a miracle. I hope you are proud of yourself for what you have accomplished and love yourself for who you are, recognizing the obstacles you overcome and are overcoming still.

    I do not have a blog for these experiences (but you might wonder if I should start one, based on the length of this post). I am a screenwriter and filmmaker, using my experiences to enrich my work. I began researching spiritual and sexual abuse in the Pentecostal church(es) in order to truthfully write a character in my current screenplay. I found your blog. I resonate with your experience; it speaks truth to me.

    I was not poor, as you were, growing up in your church. We were middle-class. My mom drove the Sunday School bus and I rode it with her as we picked up children who needed rides. Some of those kids were my friends, but I was aware that they had a different life than I did, less economic resources, and there was an issue of substance abuse where I grew up. The Sunday School bus went to the pars of town that were economically disenfranchised, where families lived in poverty.

    I can see how the poverty makes it more difficult. The detail of buying the ‘right’ clothes to meet the standards, looking good for the church congregation. In addition, your cultural heritage of being half Mexican, and the racism that the U.S. harbors against Mexicans. That is such a challenge.

    Again, I hope you can recognize the obstacles you faced due to structural racism and church prejudice and racism. You have caused me to reflect on the church congregation where I grew up: it was and still is majority white. This reflects the social demographic of the town I grew up in. Still however, there are many Latinos in the town, and I did not see them at the church. It makes me reflect on race and racism in relation to that church. Who (what skin color) were they welcoming through the doors? Who were they appointing to positions of authority?

    About me-
    Reading your post, your experiences are similar to mine in every way.
    I did not grow up in the UPC, but in a Pentecostal church named the Apostolic Faith, founded in Portland, Oregon as part of a pentecostal revival going on on the West Coast at that time. The headquarters is in Portland.

    In the AFC, we had three spiritual experiences we needed to complete: salvation, sanctification, and Holy Ghost baptism. And yes, we could backslide and lose it all, forcing someone to start over. By the age of 14 those around me were getting their sanctification, which is when God removes your desire to sin. So, I felt the pressure to move up in holiness, and I was on my knees on the floor or at the altars begging God to sanctify me. Talk about pleading; he, that big guy up there, held the keys to be future. After lots of weeping, I managed to get it. Now, I was told, I will not want to or even consider sinning. My soul, my mind, was sanctified and holy! (ha! what a psychological trip). I never made it to baptism, and the corresponding speaking in tongues. I was water baptized, I think twice, because somewhere between birth and age 17 I lost my salvation – I succumbed to Satan’s temptation and ‘backslid.’

    As a child, I was so afraid of Satan. I believed he visited my room at night. I believed he was in my mind during the day. From my perspective, he was in my room at night, and he was in my head by day, trying to get me to mess up, to sin, to be sexual, to listen to that music, to feel that emotion, like anger or jealousy, that could be sin- and sin sends you to Hell once the Rapture comes. I was stone-cold afraid of sex, anything sexual, and anything related to touching myself; I could never imagine doing it. It was if the thought of shame that would come with a sexual experience kept me from doing it; the thought of shame, and shame itself, is a force to reckon with.

    I left this church at age 17. It caused an enormous wound between my parents and I. My mother and father did not accept me. I refused to continue going, after my best friend’s family left and I no longer saw her there. I resented my parents for making me continue to go during my last year at home with them. When I left home, and moved to a different city and state, I was able to really get distance from the church and my parents, who were so ashamed of me for having rejected their church. This church believed they were the only church, the only door to salvation, the only door to heaven. There was no other way; all other denominations (God forbid you were Catholic!) were being mislead, confused by Satan, and no one in those other churches were making it to heaven. This is what I grew up believing.

    I will continue to read your blog!


    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It sounds like we had some similar experiences. Sadly our experiences are not unique. I am glad you are a better place now. Are things better with your parents?


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