Book, Childhood, Family, Rapture, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

Yesterday I finally finished Ronna Russell’s memoir! I posted a review on Goodreads.

“This book was not an easy read. I grew up in a UPC church as well and at times it all hits too close to home. The author is so brave in her telling of her story! This is a wonderful read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Christian denominations that exist on the fringe. The author’s vulnerability allows us into a world that many people never see filled with rapture anxiety, purity culture, and the pressure to be good enough. Beyond the church and the damage, it caused is a story of hope, self-acceptance, and self-love. She touches on religion, family, love, lost love, and finding and accepting oneself. I’m grateful she shared her happy ending because it gives hope to all of us raised in that atmosphere. I can’t wait to read what she writes next!”

 

I love memoir’s and this one is even more special because I can relate to it so strongly. It is not often that I have the opportunity to read about another woman’s experience within the UPC. When I talk with other survivors their stories always share common threads. For many, the fear of the rapture and hell is very real and then there is the sense of never measuring up. Normal sexual milestones tend to be suppressed and twisted leaving women feeling wrong and dirty. Secrets are everywhere and there is a knowing that comes with that. They are only secrets because they are not openly expressed but that is not the same as no one knowing or suspecting.

Ronna’s story isn’t just about the bad times it is also about hope, determination, and self-discovery. I owe her a special thanks because she has been an encouragement to me with my own writing. Women supporting women!

D

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C-PTSD, Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

C-PTSD and Rapture Anxiety

*If you are triggered by rapture anxiety tread carefully with this post*

I have complex PTSD. My condition comes from many different sources and for multiple reasons. One of the biggest causes is rapture theology. I know that I have written about this topic often so today I want to come at it from a different angle. If you spend any time on the internet you have probably heard about triggers. I have many of them and some days they can really make life complicated.

I have spent much of my adult life trying to undo the damage done to me by the church. I know in my conscious mind that I no longer believe what I was taught but because it was taught to me at such a young age it did permanent damage. Over time things have become better but my triggers never go away completely. I have been putting this off because I know how crazy it sounds but I am also very committed to being honest here and so here it goes…

On most days these things don’t bother me that much but it only takes letting one in to start a cascade of anxiety. A bad day can come out of nowhere and before I know it it has taken over everything. I had a day like this recently and it all started on Twitter. I got up in the morning and I started to mindlessly scroll through Twitter. Another survivor retweeted a tweet featuring a photo of a guillotine. That person was talking about how that photo triggered her and seeing her post triggered me. I immediately felt a sense of dread and my pulse quickened. I started to breathe fast and shallow and I had to self-talk myself out of an unexpected panicked state. Once that door is opened it can be very hard to force it closed again. I start to move through my day trying to keep “I wish we’d all been ready” from playing on a loop in my brain. That first trigger opened the door for the second (that damn song) and that leads to the next, the dreaded white van. So a little later in my day I head out to walk my dog. I have my headphones on and I’m listening to a podcast in part to keep the rapture thoughts at bay. I turn a corner and there is a white van parked on the side of the road, my pulse speeds up again as I rush past it and try to push out the memories of the Unite van from A Thief In The Night. No, men are not coming to get me in order to force the mark of the beast on me, but my lizard brain doesn’t understand that. I talk to myself about how it is just a movie and how we don’t believe in that anymore but the dread lingers all day. My brain keeps shoving things in my face the guillotine, the song, the van. Over and over. Weird looking clouds and loud horns can add to my anxiety when I am in this state. Is that god returning in those creepy clouds, is that horn signaling the start of some apocalyptic hell scape? Later I decide to take a hot bath and pamper myself a little bit, while in the bath my eyes fall upon the shampoo bottle with the UPC code facing out towards me here again is another trigger. I try to resist my impulse to turn all of the bottles away from me so I can’t see the bar code. I don’t want to give into the anxiety soon I just turn them because I want to enjoy my bath, the song returns and my bath is ruined. Before long it is bedtime and I’m laying there trying to sleep. I’m on edge because the anxiety will not let me rest. I look out into the darkness and try to will my mind to be quiet. My inner child will not rest. She knows the danger out there, Unite might be coming for me at any moment. What if you are wrong lingers on the edges of my mind. I sometimes get up and go get a drink in the bathroom. As I walk into the room I see his electric razor sitting on the counter and I’m triggered again.

I know how this sounds, which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to write. It. Things are much better now than they were when I was younger. I don’t respond to these triggers in the same way every day. They have to catch me in the right moment, maybe I’m tired that day or feeling emotional. Maybe I’m already thinking about the church or rapture for some other reason. Sounds  and visual cues affect me worse than words but occasionally words can do it especially certain Bible quotes. “No man knows the day nor the hour…” “Two men will be in the field, one will be taken…”, 666. This is why I don’t participate in conversations online about the rapture because people will bring up these verses and always the Thief in the Night films, and then it is all over for me. When it gets really bad my brain just starts flashing images at me to force me to pay attention. When I was a kid this sweet woman from the church came to give my mother a Bible study. The Search for Truth Bible Study. This Bible study was very popular within our congregation and they wanted all new converts to go through it. It was a huge flip book that stood on the table by itself with large full-page black and white drawings. One of these drawings has stuck with my mind my whole life it featured the white throne judgment and after all of these years (I was 8 when I first saw it) I can still bring it up into my mind easily.

http://search4truth2.com/DOCs/study/search4truth1-chart.pdf

Start at page 54 and go through to the end and you will see what I mean. The night I had my salvation experience my pastor preached a fire and brimstone sermon that scared the crap out of my 10-year-old self. I fully believed that if I left that service unsaved I would burn forever. From my childhood church experience I have almost no memories of anyone talking about god’s love, it seems like it was mostly turn or burn on repeat. I heard it at home, at church, and at school. It was inescapable.

I wrote this to give you all an idea of what it is like to deal with C-PTSD. When the church exposes young minds to ideas, images, and thoughts they are not ready for or able to fully understand they are committing child abuse. My young mind was damaged in a way that I cannot fully fix. I cannot predict when all of these thoughts will rush at me. Rapture theology is not the only thing contributing to my condition but it is a HUGE part of it and the most unpredictable.

D

Childhood, Depression, Forgiveness, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Where Have All Of The Children Gone?

Since I have been writing about my childhood within the church many people have contacted me. Through those contacts, I have had contact with even more people. One thing that has become clear to me is that Calvary Gospel Church (CGC) seems to lose many of their young people. Why does this happen? Is it because of abuse within the church? Sure in some cases but I feel there is more to it than that.

When young people are abused the church tends to minimize the damage and try to cover it up. They do not listen to the victims and they don’t offer any kind of aftercare/compassion when these things occur. Because the police and social services are not involved that pathway to help is not available to the victims either. Those young people are left to twist in the wind and try to make sense of the devastation in their lives. This often leads to depression and a low self-esteem. Victims are made to feel less than and because of that they eventually leave the church.

When the survivors leave, the church writes them off. Time after time I have heard about people leaving and never hearing from the church again. Young people who have spent their whole lives within the church are treated as if they never existed. This has bothered me for years. I don’t know how they can see this behavior as Christ-like. When I left no one came after me. It was like I never existed. What the church often does when someone leaves is they gossip about that person. Eventually, the person in question hears about this gossip and is reinjured and suffers trauma all over again. This makes it very unlikely that the young person will ever want to return to the church.

Questions are often off-limits. When young people go through their teen years questions are natural and should be expected. Teenage rebellion and acting out should also be expected. Within CGC questions and questioning authority is not ok. If you ask too many questions you will be told you have a rebellious spirit. If you are a naturally curious person you will not do well within that congregation. Normal acts of teenage rebellion are often used to label a person forever. Things that all kids do are seen as worthy of a life sentence. If you do anything wrong in the future your past will be brought up as if it happened yesterday.

Mental illness is not treated seriously. Often they will attribute it to sin and tell you to pray harder. They treat the consequences of abuse the same way. If you have anxiety because of their end-time teachings that must be because you are not ready for the rapture. It could not possibly be because those teachings are not healthy for young children to be exposed to. If you are depressed and struggling because of abuse that happened during your childhood they will tell you to forgive and let go. Let god handle it. When that doesn’t work some young people will turn to alcohol and sex to try to quiet the demons. They often leave the church looking for help wherever they can find it because the church did not help and in many cases made things worse.

This brings me back to my original question. Where have all of the children gone? Many of them have left in search of a church that teaches love and grace. Some had to leave and even cut off family members just to save themselves and their sanity. Some, like me, have found other paths that have proven to be healing and helpful. The church seems upset that so many of us are angry. They don’t understand why we can’t just forgive and move on, they feel attacked. I would say they need to look at themselves. They need to ask why so many of their children walk away. They need to take some responsibility for the young lives that grew up in their presence and were influenced by their teachings. If I were them I would ask myself why are these people still in pain? Why are they so angry with us after all of these years? What is my responsibility in all of this? They need to come to terms with the role they have played in creating the situation they now find themselves in.

I’m not surprised so many young people have walked away. For many leaving was the only way for them to survive. For those who got out, I’m so happy for you. For those who are on the fence, maybe one foot in and one foot out, we are over here waiting for you. If you ever decide to really leave those of us who have been out will welcome you with open arms. You won’t find judgment here but you will find compassion and understanding. Once I left the church I found my value and I learned I was worthy of love. On the outside, I found acceptance and understanding. CGC isn’t the only way.

 

 

A.C.E., Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

Girl Interrupted

Once when I was in therapy the therapist asked me to envision my child self. My mind went to a field we had near my childhood home. I would run around that field playing Wonder Woman. I went sledding with my dog down the hill beside the field and I would make crowns from the dandelions I found in the grass. When envisioning my child self my mind immediately took me to that place and sitting in the grass making crowns and placing dandelions in my hair. That little girl was still pretty carefree but that wouldn’t last for long. By that time I had been exposed to rapture theology and my parents were struggling within their marriage and we were poor. Even with all of that to worry about I was still an adventurous, imaginative, happy-go-lucky little girl.

Little Debbie

We started attending Calvary Gospel on and off in 1978. By 1980 I was becoming pretty entrenched. You might think that Steve Dahl was the first thing to interrupt my girlhood but I don’t think that is true. What came first was fear. Calvary Gospel was awash in it at that point. Sermons like the one that lead to my salvation were not the exception they were common. My world kept getting smaller and smaller. It seemed like everything was a sin and the devil was everywhere just waiting to deceive and maybe gobble up a little girl like me. The seeds to all of my anxiety were planted, watered, and tended there. How can you be a little girl when all you can think about is hell, the rapture, and what sin you might have committed while just going about your day? It didn’t take long before innocent things like watching cartoons on tv or listening to the radio could be enough to damn me for eternity. This is where I learned to make myself small and it has impacted my life in a very negative way. I became super fearful and so I stopped taking chances/risks and instead tried to stay safe. Safety is good but it can go too far. I believe all success requires being willing to take some risks.

Soon I learned that women were supposed to be quiet in church. Women’s role in family life was to be submissive to the husband and to raise the children. I was never asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I think it was assumed I would be a quiet submissive wife. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a minster. I would line up all my dolls on the sofa along with my stuffed animals and Barbies. We would have church and I would lead the worship and preach the message. At about age 10 I stopped dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Soon my goals shifted to being an evangelists wife and going to a UPC supported music school. I knew that a good ministers wife needed to know how to sing and play an instrument in order to support her husbands work. I went from being the leading lady to being a support player. Wonder Woman was long out of my reach.

A.C.E. did not help. I attended the church school and those old PACES did not show women doing much other than working with kids. We did not have many great electives to take and the work itself was not inspiring. Most of the time I was bored out of my mind. I went in a bright straight A student and left hating school and just wanting it to be over. No one ever talked to me about college or offered to help me with picking a career. The staff seemed just as miserable as the students. It was not an environment that fostered curiosity, questions, or deep thinking. It was learning by memorization, no real thinking required. Things that could not be taught that way, like algebra turned into a nightmare for me. I am a kinesthetic learner and I love a good discussion. There was no place for any of that within my Christian education. In my late high school years, I toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher but nothing ever came of that dream. The idea of college just became too much to try to figure out in the midst of all of the other things going on in my life. Even being a teacher was a downgrade from another childhood dream of being a doctor. Public school in the 70’s taught me I could be anything, the church and Christian school undid all of that.

Steve Dahl took what little bit of self-esteem I had and crushed it. That experience made me feel dirty and sinful. I had a pretty good body image before he came into my life but that all changed. I started to see my body as a sinful trap that kept ensnaring this godly man. I felt betrayed by my body because at times I enjoyed the attention he gave me. I started to see my body as something that needed to be hidden, controlled and prayed for. I certainly did not feel fearfully and wonderfully made. I did not feel created in god’s image. All of the things that made me a woman seemed evil and wrong. Eve was my mother and well we all know how things went for her.

Age 11

Catching a husband seemed important. I worried about being attractive but not too attractive or attractive in the wrong way. I was half Mexican and so that added an extra level of difficulty. I could not get a straight answer about who it was ok for me to marry. At that time interracial marriage was considered wrong and there were no other Mexicans in our congregation. I felt that my being half Mexican meant I needed to find a Mexican husband, and that seemed like a tall order. I dated Caucasians boys but I always felt the undertone of racism that existed there. I would not be anybody’s first choice. I was tainted by my molestation and the color of my skin. I felt lesser. My parents were not part of the in crowd and that also lead to me feeling like a second-class citizen. It made me feel even smaller.

About 15

Yesterday I was talking with some other survivors about who we could have been had we not grown up in the UPC environment. We all feel like girls interrupted. Our childhood interrupted and corrupted by Calvary Gospel church. Our innocence was stolen. We were not allowed to be kids. The adults always seemed to have their minds in the gutter and so every innocent thing became an opportunity for sin and especially sex to invade our lives, and yet no protection was offered to keep us safe from the real dangers. Predators were protected and supported while victims were scorned and not to be trusted. We received a substandard education and the church seemed to care more about whether or not our skirts had slits than whether or not be could go to college. The adults in my life didn’t seem to care about the lack of food in my home or about the devastation that my abuse caused in my life. If they had done that one thing, protected me from my abuser my life could have been so different. If they had offered loving support and reassurance my life could have been so much better. They took beautiful, bright, and hopeful young girls and turned them into anxious, fearful, and damaged women.

Now as we try to raise awareness about what happened to us all the church can do is scorn us. They can’t seem to understand or they don’t care to see what they have done to us. These things are not things you just move on from it takes hard work, support, and a lifetime of striving to overcome. There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t been striving to be better no matter what our damage is. We don’t desire to be bitter we desire justice and we hope to save other children from the fate we have suffered. We were girls interrupted but now we are women seeking to bring about change.

Last year my word for the year was restoration. I wanted to go back to the time before I was so afraid. I wanted to see my body as a miracle and a blessing and I wanted to say goodbye to shame once and for all. I worked to remember who I was before my worth was called into question. Last year was a big year. My life has totally changed. I feel like my life has been restored. I’m taking chances again and I’m daring to go after what I want. I’ve stepped out of the shadows and I’ve become more engaged in my community and politics. I’ve been reunited with old friends and found many new friends and supporters. I’ve learned I’m not alone thanks to #metoo/#churchtoo. I am not the person the church might like you to think I am. I’m not bitter, I’m strong. I’m not trying to engage them in spiritual warfare, I’m trying to seek justice for my child self. I’m trying to tell the truth and speak for all of those who cannot speak for themselves. Wonder Woman doesn’t seem so out of reach now.

D

Childhood, Family, Fear, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

The Monsters

There are many things to be afraid of from my childhood but the thing that has scared me the most is rapture culture. It still haunts me at 47 years old. I have complex PTSD due to this teaching. I have had to work with a therapist who specializes in spiritual abuse in order to stop having flashbacks and nightmares. None of that is gone completely, it is the monster under my bed and just behind every door, always threatening my peace of mind. If I let it in even a little bit I will spend a week fighting it back into its cage. It is real and more dangerous than any man who ever put his hands on me.

My mother was tormented by fears about the rapture. She could never be perfect enough so she spent long hours on her knees praying and that meant she was not really looking after me. As a small child, I would sit outside her door and worry about if she was ok. She would cry and speak in tongues for hours, I would listen and try to play with my toys…alone. I know that much of my adult anxiety comes from the rapture culture I was raised in. I was always worried about what unconfessed sin I might be missing that would cause me to miss the rapture. I could never rest easy and I could never just be a kid. Add to that those grown men trying to creep on me from the 6th grade on, my life was always about trying to be purer.  I thought something I was doing was causing them to lust after me, and that might make me be left behind.

In 1972 a film came out called Thief In The Night. It spawned a series of 4 films and my church would show them once a year. I was two in 1972 and one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me out of a showing of that film at the Assemblies of God church we were attending. There is not a time I can remember when I did not have nightmares about those films. I could not sleep alone as a kid because I was afraid of being left behind. My mother finally forced me to sleep alone in the 5th grade and I think that is when my insomnia really kicked in. I have had horrible insomnia for most of my life. Tired is the rule, not the exception. I don’t believe in the Christian god or the rapture any longer but my poor lizard brain still does. That is what is so awful about this teaching. When you start teaching it to very young children it becomes part of them and they are stuck with it for life. My therapist explained to me that the brain cannot always tell the difference between something it sees that is a movie and something actually happening, especially when you see it at such a young age. This is why my brain thinks it witnessed a beheading. I am traumatized like a soldier who actually witnessed someone being executed because my child mind could not logic out the difference. This is an interesting thing to research if you are into brain science like I am. I have been trying to hack this out of my brain for many many years.

When I was in early elementary school I fell asleep under a plastic sled. I had been using it to create a fort in my living room. When my mother came home from work she could not find me. My little body was completely hidden under the sled. She screamed and ran to our neighbor’s house sure that I had been taken and she had been left. Suddenly all of these adults come crashing into our living room screaming my name, it was not a nice way to wake up. She was relieved and I was freaked out, it really drove home that she and her friends really believed this stuff.

Since starting this blog I have spoken to many people who suffer the same fears that I do, we all attended the same church. The aftermath of this teaching is anxiety, fear, nightmares, and depression. I wish someone could explain to me why my parents and church leaders thought it was ok to show small children these films. They are violent and if they had been rated they would have not been appropriate for kids. They showed people being beheaded via guillotine and they featured a child awaiting execution. They showed babies starving due to parents not accepting the mark of the beast. Oh and the people running from the One World Government. I spent so many sleepless nights due to dreaming of being chased by men in white vans and armbands. To this day white vans, helicopters, barcodes, and guillotines can still trigger me. It is an awful price to pay if you are an adult raised in this culture. I can be just out enjoying my day and suddenly I’m triggered and I will often have a panic attack. All this because I see a white van parked on the side of the road. My logical brain could care less but my hindbrain really thinks it is a threat. I will have heart palpitations and I will experience fight or flight sensations. I just have to power through it so it doesn’t take over the day.

So once a year my church would show these films 4 nights in a row. They said it was to save the lost, but really it was to keep the congregants in line. After the film, the altar would be filled with congregants and maybe a stray “lost” person. You may be saying to yourself, yeah but they are just movies. The thing is when you are shown them in early childhood, and then the pastor reinforces the teaching all year-long until you watch them again, that all feels pretty real. Every adult in your life tells you it is real. In your world it is real. Our pastor would make a speech before every film saying that we don’t actually support everything in these films. What he meant was that they were softer than his teaching. The films showed people being saved after the rapture and he did not teach that. If you missed the rapture your only hope was to be killed for not taking the mark. Add to that constant talk of demons and devils trying to deceive you and oppress you, and you can start to see where all of the anxiety comes from.

This is child abuse. I have to wonder what I would have accomplished in my life had I not been fighting to keep my sanity. Not turning in predators is child abuse. Who would I be if I had not been preyed upon by those men? I’m happily married now, but I have been through two divorces because I have an awful track record with men. One of my exes was emotionally and physically abusive and the other one ran off with a much younger woman. By the way, the second one grew up in the same church as I did. I have to wonder if that has anything to do with his upbringing and what he saw happening all around him. He basically told me I was too old. My relationship with my parents suffered due to what they exposed me to and the resentment I felt about that. All of the people from my childhood I basically avoid like the plague, which has left me alone to struggle through the wreckage of my childhood. I’m going to end this post with gratitude. I have found others and I think they understand my struggle, I feel validated and their compassion has warmed my heart. I have 4 amazing kids who I love more than anything. They will never know the sorrow of being raised like I was. Lastly, I have a husband who has stood beside me as I reveal this story and I know he understands. I’m grateful for having survived.

D

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?

D

Childhood, Family, Fear, Rapture, United Pentecostal Church

Beginning

I guess the best place to start a story is at the beginning. My mother was raised in the Church of God. She came from a small town and her parents were very religious and conservative. The church of her childhood was very charismatic. She told me stories about people dancing in the spirit and speaking in tongues. When she moved to the big city (Madison Wisconsin) it was a pretty big shock. She married young and had me quickly after. My mother was always looking for the “right” church. Her and my father attended an Assemblies of God church close to our home for the first few years of my life. Eventually they left that church, although I’m not sure why. In the corners of my memory I think I remember her saying something about not liking the new pastor. I was dedicated to god in that church and one of my earliest memories is of that church. A Thief In The Night was a movie that played a big part in my childhood. That film came out in 1972, at that time I was 2 years old. It was not released in theaters but instead traveled from church to church like a virus. I don’t know when exactly it was shown at our church but I know I was not much more than a toddler. It is one of my earliest memories. I don’t know what scene it was exactly but it was a scene where someone (probably Patty) screams, at that moment I started to cry, hard, and my dad had to carry me out of the auditorium. At the back of our church there was just glass, you could stand outside the sanctuary and look inside. It was probably like that so that parents could take their kids out and still hear and see what was going on. My dad paced the floor with me and I cried because I was scared. I sometimes wonder if the scream I heard was even in the movie or if it was someone in the congregation who was freaked out by the film. That sort of movie was still pretty new for that time period and I’m sure many people had never seen anything like it. It is now considered the grand daddy of all the end time films.

During my childhood we visited many churches and my mother would only stay in a church for a short time (couple of years) until we started attending the United Pentecostal Church in our city. That was when our whole world changed but that is a story for another day. One thing ties all of the churches we visited together like a sinister cord of fear, and that is those damn Thief In The Night movies. Watching them punctuates all of my church experiences. They were a big deal in the 70’s and I could not escape them no matter how hard I tried.

My mother was a church hopper. She struggled my whole childhood to find just the right place. She was never satisfied. I hope you understand that I am not trying to be critical, I understand her struggle it makes sense to me now that I am an adult. My mother grew up believing that her church was the right church. She was raised that you had to be Church of God to be saved. My grandparents were livid when they found she was attending a “Jesus Only” church. In order for church to feel right for her it had to have charismatic worship, fire and brimstone preaching, and a strong belief in end times prophecy. They also had to baptize in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. The UPC had all of those but not the baptism part. She spent the most time at the UPC but never fully embraced it, because of the baptism question. I think she stayed there because it felt the most like home. My mother struggled with depression and I’m sure that is why she struggled to find a church home that fit. Our life was full of drama, her depression, my father’s cheating, poverty, and divorce, I think many pastors just did not know how to deal with all of those issues. They gave her non-answers and non-help.

She was very talented. My mother could sing and traveled from church to church with a gospel singing group as a teen. She played multiple instruments and often played and sang in church. Because of her religious upbringing and depression, plus our often dire straits, she spent a lot of time in prayer. Not bow your head kind of prayer but weeping and speaking in tongues. I would sit outside her bedroom door and wonder if she was ok. She was always worried about hell and the rapture. She heard it her whole life and then passed it down to me. The fear of being left behind punctuated my childhood. I believe it led to the anxiety issues I have today. I no longer worry about the rapture but I do struggle with anxiety and I can trace it directly back to her.

D