These are my stories.
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)
In the beginning
I grew up in my Childhood Church.
For twenty-one years, this church was my Sunday home. Three ministers, two children's choir directors, more Sunday School teachers than I can remember. A cradle Anglican, I was baptised into the church as an infant and confirmed those vows twelve years later. My most cherished memories of church happened there; my worst experiences of church happened there too.
* * *
I remember that he was a kind man, our second minister. He was missing two and a half fingers; odd, the things that stick in a child's mind.
I don't recall a thing he taught but I remember what his wife taught me. I was just a little girl but she never treated me like one. She took us church kids under her wing and she taught us to sing - to really sing. She included us, not in the patronizing way with Jo-Jo-Jonah and arky arkies, but with a sincerity and authenticity that made me feel like I was really and truly part of this church family.
I still remember the songs we sang under her gentle guidance. The Lord of the Dance remains my favourite, and I think of her every time I sing it, the way she'd strum her guitar low and slow when Jesus died, and then loud and fast again when He danced on His grave. I picture her eyes closed, smile wide, curly hair bouncing as she nodded her head along with the music.
* * *
Five years old, I did my first reading in that church. I read from Luke and I still remember practicing, over and over, words burning into my brain and sinking even deeper into my heart. I can recite it by heart even today. I felt so valuable, then and every time after, just another person on their list of readers. I'd step up to the microphone with shaking knees but I'd do it anyway and it's only now as I look back that I realize what a gift they gave me.
But new ministers meant new methods and soon the readings were left for the adults. Oh, they still "included" us younger ones. We'd have "youth Sundays" every few months, where we did a cute little play and sang a cute little song and look at us, being "included". The rest of the time we filled in worksheets and drew pictures in Sunday School.
But inclusion isn't showy. It isn't overdone. It isn't made a big deal of. It simply is, each of us a true member of the church family, discovering and honouring and using our God-given gifts. We recognized the patronizing pat on the head.
* * *
Soon I was the only youth left in my church. Lonely and wanting the company of other Christians my age, I accepted a friend's offer and joined the youth group of a nearby evangelical church.
I met my husband at that youth group. We were 12 years old.
I was playing soccer with the guys in the church basement and I checked him, hard. All bets were off at that point; no longer did gender afford me a hands-off status. It was only a matter of time until the boy asked me to marry him, this girl who refused to act like one.
They tried, though. I grew cynical in that youth group, weary of the growing emphasis on "biblical" manhood and womanhood, surface "modesty", no we can't play that game anymore because a boy might touch a girl, no she can't be the youth group president because that would send the wrong message about a woman's proper role but perhaps she'd like to be the secretary or treasurer? We all kissed dating good-bye thanks to the wisdom of Joshua Harris, and yet it was all we ever talked about, dating and purity and how far was too far anyway?
Like I said, I grew cynical there.
* * *
I spent my teen years caught in the familiar trap of rededication. In my Anglican church, my baptism and confirmation were enough, that was it, get on with living like a new creation. But it wasn't enough in that evangelical youth group. We travelled to big youth events, screamed along with the rock bands, cried through each emotionally-charged session, rededicated ourselves over and over and over. Maybe this time we'd be sure; maybe this time it would stick.
It was all so much more exciting than my quiet, reserved, boring Anglican church.
I craved the emotional stimulation. I craved the late-night pour-your-heart-out conversations. I worshiped our young single youth leaders who assured us they knew how we felt, they understood us in ways our parents didn't, they cared for us and were here for us if we ever needed to talk.
* * *
It wasn't until my early twenties that I finally learned to appreciate the liturgical service. It became beautiful to me, rich in its depth and history. I fell in love with the church I'd grown up in, the church I'd tried to run away from in my quest for something more exciting.
* * *
But I learned heartbreak in that church too. It was there that I first discovered that grace can too often be a false grace, a mockery that scoffs at sin and blames the victim - it was probably just tickling that went too far - and then sends him off to help with the Sunday School to demonstrate their trust in him. It was almost too much, almost the end of wanting anything to do with God's holy people.
To be continued...