Childhood, Confusing, Fear, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Listening To That Inner Voice

During the process of writing about my childhood I’m finding more questions than answers. Opening the door to my past has caused me to remember things I have not thought about for a long time. Many of these events seemed weird at the time and now through my adult eyes they seem inappropriate. As these memories bubble up into the now I have asked people if they remember and if it all seems odd to them as well. In a recent conversation a friend and I discussed how we remember two things from our childhood growing up in the church, fear and sex.

For the lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil. Proverbs 5:3

I started attending Calvary Christian Academy when I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. We started attending the church when I was about 8. I was excited about starting a new school and finally being a part of the in-group. The principal at that point was Brother Rutherford. He seemed nice enough but had some strange quirks about him. Every morning we would read a passage together as a group. The goal was to memorize the verses and be able to repeat them back by the end of the month. If you wanted any extra freedoms or honor roll you had to have those verses memorized and signed off on. The thing is the verses we studied seem really strange when I look back on them now. The Bible is a long book and full of topics to focus on so why these verses were chosen is beyond me.

Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.

Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.

Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee.

Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Proverbs 5:15-18

Every morning we would stand and say the pledge and then read our verses. We read them as a mixed group out loud. I can remember being pretty embarrassed to read these things in front of the boys. It did not help that the older boys would tell bawdy jokes about them and snicker and laugh at my discomfort.

Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? Proverbs 5:19-20

I have to ask if the men working in the school got some kind of perverse pleasure from watching teen girls recite these verses both as a group and then one on one. When we reached the end of the month either our supervisor Roy Grant or Brother Rutherford would come to our little office and listen to us recite the verses back to them. I can remember being really uncomfortable. I was very good at memorization so that wasn’t the issue, it was all of those breasts and lips.

O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.

I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. Song of Solomon 8:1-2

We would have a sort of chapel time and Brother Rutherford or Roy Grant would preach a mini sermon or teach a lesson. Often the subject matter would have something to do with the verses we were working on. So it isn’t that the verses were not explained, they were but I still have to ask, why was this something I needed to read/know at age 11? Why so much focus on cheating spouses and sexual love? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for us to be studying the fruits of the spirit or maybe the sermon on the mount?

We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?

If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.

I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour. Song of Solomon 8: 8-10

I have turned this over in my head time and again and I just don’t get it. Why all the verses about breasts? Of all of the topics available why this kind of thing over and over? If there is one thing I have learned in my life it is that where there is smoke there is fire. If it makes you feel uncomfortable there is a reason for that and you should listen to that inner voice. I do not know who picked those verses. It could have been Brother Rutherford or Pastor Grant but either way I think it was inappropriate. I could understand if we were older like 17 or so or if it was a class for people about to be married.

A side note, we always read from the KJV and we were taught that the Proverbs verses were about staying faithful to ones wife, and the Song of Solomon verses were about marital love. Imagine my surprise when I found that some view the Song of Solomon verses to be about Christ. That is not how it was taught to us.

Brother Rutherford and his family eventually left and I think they moved back to Texas. I do not remember why but I do remember that it seemed kind of sudden and fast. After that we had a new principal and the verses changed to more normal content.

You might ask why I am writing this entry, it is because as I try to figure out the past these things come to mind and then I can’t get them out of my mind. I comb over them over and over again trying to make sense of it all. Why did they focus so much on sexual topics? Why the pervy undertones? They had to have known that a young girl would feel uncomfortable reading those verses out loud, especially given how sheltered we were. If anyone remembers the Rutherfords and knows why they left I would love to know.

 

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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

Assemblies of God Church, Childhood, Family, Fear, Government, isolation, Poverty, United Pentecostal Church

Isolation, Bootstraps, and Fear of the Government

My mother was a very strong woman. She often worked two jobs and still made the time to do things like refinishing the living room floor. We were very poor for most of my childhood but my mother would not consider asking the government for assistance. In the 70’s it was much easier for men to get out of paying child support and my father very rarely paid anything. Because of her stubborn resistance regarding asking for help, we often were on the edge of losing our housing and we often did not have enough to eat. I would walk home from school at lunch and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that is all we had. I also have memories of my mother fishing for dinner. If she did not catch anything we did not have dinner. At times she would keep a cooler with milk, bologna, and maybe some kind of fruit. When you don’t have electricity it can be impossible to cook or keep food cold. It wasn’t always that bad but it happened pretty regularly.

Where did her resistance regarding asking for help come from? It can be traced back to her parents and religion. My grandparents were rugged people who believed you should help yourself through hard work and determination. They tended to only associate with others from their church because of fear of the world and the devil’s influence on it. They passed that fear down to my mother. They felt that you never ask the government for assistance and you don’t let them into your life if you can help it. This means don’t call the police unless you are dying and never answer the door for social services. You should never apply for things like food stamps because you would have to fill out government forms, thus giving them info about yourself and because you should be able to help yourself through hard work.

All of this kind of thinking tends to lead to isolation. You cannot ask for help without shame, you can only associate with others from your church, and your church is pretty anti-government. On the surface, it might seem like the UPC is patriotic and pro-government, but that isn’t really the truth. My grandparent’s Assemblies of God church was pretty much the same. Once you are isolated from the community around you all you can do is hope your church will help, in our case that help never came.

I have many memories of sitting on the floor at my grandparent’s house listening to the adults talking. They often talked about the end times and the One World Government. They speculated about who the anti-Christ was and how he would take over the U.S. They talked about the government being able to watch us through our televisions and about how someday they would be able to see through the walls of our homes. They felt we were already being watched. I know this may sound crazy to someone who has not grown up around this stuff but I assure you they believed it all. My mother and her family saw the government as evil and this meant you did not go to them unless you had no other option.

This distaste for the government may have led to my molestation not being reported. Sure the church did not want the bad press of having a molestation case coming out of their church, but there is also a distrust of the government happening there. In the end, the pastor is your government. He makes the rules, punishes the sinners, and decided who rises and who falls. You cannot question him because that is taboo.

1 Chronicles 16:22 “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”

Anyone could be the anti-Christ. It could even be the U.S. president. He might even be serving right now. With that always being the case then how could you trust the government? It will be the government that eventually gives out the mark of the beast so…you can see where all of the fear comes from. The end result makes pastors into kings of their own little kingdoms. They are not to be questioned and if you do you will soon find yourself out in that cruel world they have warned you about. You will be shunned and subject to a different type of isolation.

All of these beliefs kept my family in poverty and kept my mother suffering for much of her life. It makes me sad that she worked herself to death trying to live and pay medical bills. It makes me angry that her mental illness went untreated for so long because she thought it was sin and not illness causing her depression. If she had not been afraid maybe she could have received help from the county with childcare, food stamps, and medical assistance. How could my life have been different if I had better medical care, enough food so that I could concentrate on school, and childcare so I wouldn’t have to be a latchkey kid? If some of these things had been in place maybe I would have not been such a good target for Steve Dahl. Being with him was an escape from a pretty hard life, at least I knew he would feed me.

D

Childhood, Crime, Fear, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Shame and The Price of Being Female

Now that I have been networking with my little group of survivors I’m aware of the shame and fear installed into us throughout childhood. As we discuss next actions there is a fear and shame that permeates everything. Even now in adulthood, it can be hard to stand up to those who abused us and caused us so much pain. It can be hard to stand up to the Pastor when you are still afraid of him. I did not realize until I started writing my story that I still feel fear about confronting Pastor Grant and Calvary Gospel.

I was raised in a congregation where women are not believed or supported. Your thoughts, dreams, aspirations, interests, and opinions don’t matter. What matters is obedience. Women are treated like wild animals who need to be caged and trained to be docile and voiceless. You are taught from birth that women brought sin into the world. You are also taught that your body is dangerous and shameful. From a very early age, the responsibility for your body and how it affects others is laid in your hands. Men can’t be expected to control their god given urges but a preteen can be expected to have all of the control in the world. They teach young women that god expects them to be submissive to men and then they say you have to say no and safeguard your body until marriage. This can be very hard when you have men thirty years and older constantly flirting with you and trying to seduce you into giving them whatever they can get. These older men are savvy and they know how to groom their victims. Most of the young girls in this situation have no chance of coming out of the situation without shame. This is the price of being female.

Cover yourself completely, keep men safe from the sight of your knees or collarbone, but be pretty or you will not catch a husband. Having a husband and children is really the only path forward. Make yourself attractive but don’t wear makeup or jewelry because that makes you a Jezabel. Always be planning for marriage but don’t think about boys too much because that is sinful.

There is also fear. Fear of being caught, fear of the abuse continuing, being afraid to report, and the worst of all fears, fear of the judgment of an angry god. I know I lived in fear the entire time I was attending Calvary Gospel. I was afraid that someone would find out what Steve was doing to me. Then I was afraid to tell my pastor, and when I did tell I was afraid of the gossip I knew would come. I was afraid of what kind of embarrassing punishment I might have to endure, and I was afraid that maybe god wouldn’t forgive me. After each abuse, I would run to my room and pray beside my bed. I would cry and ask god to forgive me. I never felt clean. I never felt forgiven.

This was my childhood prayer, words attributed to my childhood hero King David from Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

All of that was a big burden on the heart of a child. We who were abused within the church still carry the shame. The echoes of the crimes committed against us vibrate out even now. They have affected my choices in most areas of my life. Shame coupled with fear kept me in my first marriage for way too long. Both of those things have caused me to strive to keep myself small, under the radar, and uncertain of my worth. It has taken me until the age of 47 to really understand all of this. Who would I have been had someone protected me from this predator? What would I have done with my life had the church supported me and helped me to heal from the abuse? Would I have made better relationship choices, instead of choosing the same bad men over and over again? Would I be able to love my body instead of being at war with it for my whole life? I question myself a lot. I think this comes from not being believed. They did not really believe I was molested they believed I was an adulterer. Women who leave the church due to abuse are often characterized as being crazy, and even if you know you are not crazy it can lead you to distrust yourself.

Now I know I have worth and I try to remind the others like me of their worth. We are not forever broken or tarnished. We are not those little girls anymore. We are grown women, strong survivors who have children of our own. I have to keep reminding myself of that last part. I am a grown woman now and there is a reckoning coming, I intend to hold my abuser accountable and also those who covered up his crime. It might make my heart pound in my chest but I refuse to cower anymore. They might hold the power to make me flinch but I will not let them make me back down, I refuse to let fear and shame win!

D

 

 

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

The Monstersk

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