I didn’t always have a church. When I was little, my Mom tried to ensure we attended church on Sunday – we went to Sunday School, attended Vacation Bible School in the summers – the whole thing. But being kids, I and my siblings soon grew to resent having religion/God foisted on us every Sunday, when we’d much rather sleep late and then go and hang out with the neighbourhood kids – after all, we hadda blow off steam in preparation for a boring week of school! Eventually, my Dad suggested that it might be better to stop forcing us along the path to God, reasoning that we could seek Him out in our own way if we wanted to once we were old enough and possessed of enough reasoning capabilities to make up our own minds on the whole matter.
It was a battle he won, and so for many years I did not attend church. Which is not to say that I stopped believing in a higher power, I merely figured that if He was truly everywhere the way I’d been taught, then I could talk to Him any time I wanted or needed to, which I did until I lost my faith, but that’s a blog for another day.
Still, thoughts of God and sin and redemption and heaven and hell were never far from my mind. During my first marriage, I attended church religiously (bad pun, I know!) with my in-laws, who were fervent Christians. My husband never went with us, preferring instead to joke about what he viewed as my “efforts to get in good with his folks.” I enjoyed this church, until the minister hit on me.
In the church. In the house of the Lord. A man of God – at least he claimed to be a man of God – hit on me.
Naturally I told my in-laws. My mother-in-law suggested that the “cloak of sin I wore” led him to temptation; my father-in-law called me a “little liar”. I gave up church and Sunday dinners with the in-laws.
During my second marriage, I returned to church. My second husband’s father was long deceased, so it was just me and Ma, which is what I called my second mother-in-law, a woman I absolutely adored, and still adore to this day (I stayed married to her son for so long because I didn’t want to lose her, and I retained my married name because she asked me to).
I liked this church. I won’t say I cared much for the sermons, which centered around the angry God, the God of the Big Book who was writin’ down all your sins and ever ready to punish you. But the music was amazing….old-time gospel. People speakin’ in tongues and gettin’ “struck by spirit” and fallin’ out in the aisles. How I longed to have God touch me like that!
Eventually I joined the choir. I didn’t want to, but was gently pressured into it. It was an “old” church – very few of what was considered – at that time – “young” people. I was in my mid-twenties, so my addition to the choir was kinda a big deal.
I didn’t want to join. I love to sing – I sing all the time, whilst cleanin’ the house, walkin’ to work, pushin’ my trolley around Asda’s. That said, I admit I can’t carry a tune. But Ma – who was in the choir – dearly wanted me to join – so I gave in.
This choir – which was all female – turned out to be the biggest bunch of bullies (my mother-in-law excepted) I’d encountered since junior high. The entire congregation was constantly bemoaning the lack of “young blood” in the church. Being one of the youngest members of the congregation – not to mention the youngest member of the choir – I was filled with ideas on how to bring the 20-30 age group to church – suggestions which I generously shared, the main one being by making the music more appealing to younger ears. While I liked Mahalia, Shirley Caesar, the Mississippi Mass Choir et al, at the time I’m writin’ of, there were new, young contemporary gospel artists burstin’ onto the scene, and I liked them – they jammed. So I brought their CDs to choir practice with me.
The women in the choir were horrified (again, excepting my mother-in-law, who genuinely just liked music. All music). I was a hussy, a harlot, a heathen – akin to Jezebel or any other cheap juke-joint floozy.
Ma defended me. And because she and her husband had been founder members of the church, no one dared say a word to her. But I was left so disheartened by the experience – after all, I’d meant no harm! – that I left the choir and the church.
In 1989 I abandoned all churches – and God. But like I said earlier, that’s a blog for another day.