Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Salvation, United Pentecostal Church

When Salvation Isn’t A Relief

I was ten years old when I had my salvation experience. I took the long walk down to the altar and repented of my sins, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then baptized. This was supposed to fix the major problems of my life. I wouldn’t have to worry about hell anymore and with the power of Jesus inside me, I should be able to fix most of my problems through prayer. I left church that night feeling high! I felt so loved by God and so close to Him. That lasted about two weeks. Slowly worry and doubt started creeping in. My church taught that you could lose your salvation and suddenly I had a whole new series of problems to be concerned about. Backsliding was preached about frequently and if you backslid you could end up in hell. So really having my salvation experience did not free me from my worries about the rapture and hell. Before I had to wonder if I had reached that magical age when God would decide I was old enough to be held accountable for my sins or if I was still in the clear, now I had to worry about how much sin was too much? At what point would God throw up His hands and say “She is too far gone now!” At that point, I would be lost again until I returned like the prodigal son. Would I know if I had gone too far? Did I go too far today when I watched that TV show? These were questions that plagued my young mind.

We were taught to have faith. If I had questions, which I did, then I must not have faith. This could be really scary because faith is required for salvation. I was already doubting my ability to truly believe because I could not make my home life better. I was sure I must have faith at least the size of a mustard seed but maybe I was wrong. I sure wasn’t moving any mountains. Things at home just got worse and worse. Soon after my salvation experience, I would meet my abuser and then things would really take a turn. I never understood why Jesus did not protect me from Steve. I think because things in my home never got any better no matter how hard I prayed and because of Steve, I really believed that God did not like me. At least when I was a little child I could say to myself that once I was saved everything would be golden, but then afterward I had nowhere to look but at myself. There must be something wrong with me. Now I look back on it and I can see that the adults around me were making me feel inferior. They also really treated salvation like it was a feeling. Church was the time of the week to get hyped! They came for a show and to get their fix. If they left feeling good all was right with the world and everything was ok with their hearts. If the service was more of a downer and maybe the message darker the altar would be full of people coming back to God or recommitting themselves. Once they were cried out and had spoken in tongues they felt high again and they would feel a sense of relief. Growing up within the UPC really was a roller coaster. You begin to crave the Sunday night service almost like a drug, a way to get high in order to get you through the week. By the end of the service, I felt great and everything was good until I walked into my house. Sometimes that feeling would only last the car ride home because it was just a feeling. I would walk into my house and my mother would be crying or fighting with my stepdad, sometimes there would be soft porn on the tv and my mother would be nowhere in sight, and sometimes it would just be black because we didn’t have power. The house felt oppressive and joy and my feeling of salvation couldn’t survive there.

I am sure there are some people who would love to say I was never saved. Maybe that is true but I know for sure that I chased after God. The older I became the harder it was because everything that happened to you in your life was somehow related to some sin you must have going on. If you were sick it was because of some unrepented sin. Mental illness was a demon persecuting you. Are you in debt? You must not be giving enough to the church. In the end, it was your issue if your life wasn’t what God had said it would be. If you couldn’t pray it away don’t look at God look at yourself.

I know that this is not everyone’s experience but it was mine. I’m not willing to argue with you about Christianity or scripture. This is just something that has been on my mind and I have been wanting to share. If you’ve had a similar experience I’d like to hear about it.

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