I was a Bible quiz captain when I attended the UPC church. The UPC had two levels of quizzing back then junior and senior. Elementary school kids would be on the junior team and then the older kids were on the other team. I never quizzed as a junior because we did not have teams when I was that age.
The UPC is pretty picky about what translation of the Bible you use. The church of my childhood only read and studied the King James Version. Before we ever had a quiz team I knew that I was special because I could read the King James better than the other kids my age. I was always a strong reader and I could read books meant for much older people. I won the big parts in the Christmas plays because I could read the text better, this made up for my being poor and brown and therefore less in the eyes of many of the adults. When we started quiz teams I quickly rose to the top because of my strong reading and the fact that I could memorize scripture very easily. I also worked very hard on whatever I did, I am still the same way and it has served me well into my adulthood.
I have many happy memories of quizzing. I won trophy after trophy and that built my confidence up. I felt needed and valued and a part of something, that was the good part. There was a dark side. My coach liked all of the attention we were receiving from the church leadership as we traveled around the state racking up wins. Soon winning became everything and the pressure on me as captain of the team was pretty high. I was struggling with Algebra at that time and I told my coach I needed less material to memorize because I really needed to focus on my school issues. I did not get any help or rest from him, he reminded of how important my role was and told me I just needed to work harder. I was smart enough to know that school should come first but I was not strong enough to push back. At that point, I was learning all of my material plus everyone else’s. My coach did not have confidence in my teammates and so he wanted me to be able to catch whatever they did not memorize. Each team had three members who played first string and then up to three alternates in case someone was sick or had to leave early. I ended up answering 75% of the questions. During that time I memorized most of Paul’s writings, Psalms, Proverbs, and a few others. We had to know them verbatim backward and forwards.
My coach was not a very nice guy. He could put on a nice face but when it was just us kids and his wife he could be a real brute. He was ex-military and it showed. He would berate his wife in front of us and it was hard to watch. She was a gentle soul, the perfect submissive wife. I remember one quiz meet when I almost refused to play. That was really getting towards the beginning of the end for me. He had yelled at his wife for something that was clearly his fault. I was embarrassed for her and I told him he was being a jerk. This kind of behavior was unheard of for a young woman of my age, and he yelled at me and told me I was being rebellious. That was a serious accusation in my church. I went into the room I was staying in (we were out of town) and sobbed with anger. By this time I had so much pent-up rage. One of my teammates came in and talked me down and convinced me to play the next day. I did play but my heart wasn’t in it, little did I know that would be one of my last games. Eventually, I quit. When I decided to quit my coach was not very understanding. I told him I just did not want the stress anymore. I needed to focus on school. I look back on it now and I am proud of myself for setting boundaries. I’m also aware that when I started to set boundaries I was setting my feet on the path of leaving. I’m sure that in my coach’s mind I did not need an education if I had a husband.
A couple of side notes, they made us do an exhibition game against all of the ministers in the church to show the congregation how good we were. I remember being angry because they did not make the ministers follow the rules and so it ended up that they beat us. Now I know that we really won but they could not allow a female-led teen quiz team beat the anointed of God. I can remember being very angry about this because I knew it wasn’t right and I knew why they did it.
I was encouraged to win but not to ask questions. I digested the scripture and tried to really understand it. I would ask questions and often the answer would be that I could ask Jesus in heaven. I found things that didn’t add up and that made me a troublemaker, they couldn’t see that I was asking because I wanted to know God, they saw it as questioning God. Over time it became clear to me that I knew more about the Bible than many of the ministers did, this did not help me respect them. I knew they looked down on me because of my intellect and that made me feel bad about myself. On the other hand, it feels good to know that you are smart and so I was always conflicted. I know now I would have never survived adulthood in the church because I would have never been able to be submissive enough. My teen years ignited a tiny flame in my belly that eventually led me away from them, I tried other churches for a long time, but this is when the cracks started to show.