Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Religion In Retreat

My parents didn't attend church. Daddy said that his mother took him to church Sundys, Wednesdays, every time the doors opened, and he just got burned out. I don't think mother went to church growing up, her parents were British, and probably went to the Church of England, or, maybe they were lapsed Catholics, for all I know. So, she didn't have any particular affiliation. As I grew up, I attended many different churches. I went with friends, neighbors, whenever I wanted to, but not with any regularity. I did learn a lot about several denominations that way.

That is not to say that we were non-believers. Daddy's childhood minister gave me away at my wedding, because daddy was dead by then. He and his wife were our good friends of ours. I am a member of the Methodist Church, duly baptised, but have rather spotty attendance. Daddy called himself a "backslidin' Methodist".

So, when I was in Junior High school, I started going to a Baptist Church in Little Rock, with a good friend. I was always very uncomfortable there, because there was a lot of individual participation expected from the members, in that at any given moment, the minister or Sunday School teacher would suddenly call upon someone for an extemporaneous prayer. The regular members all knew to expect to be called on, and no doubt, had a prayer at the ready.

I should probably have quit going there when I realized that they were a lot more strict in their beliefs than the Methodists, but I had this crush on a certain boy, and, well, you know. Had I been older, I would have realized that the handwriting was on the wall when the minister threatened me with hellfire and damnation if I refused to join the choir. Or, when I was told that if I engaged in co-ed swimming at a local lake, I was doomed. That is, until the Baptist Church bought the lake and, miracle of miracles! it was ok for everyone to swim together.

One summer, there was a day long retreat planned for the youth group. We had a picnic and sang and generally had a fine time, until it started getting late in the afternoon. The minister asked us all to spread out and sit down on the side of a hill, and he went down to the bottom and started his sermon. Oh, he was in fine form, this day, and at the end of his message, he told us all to bow our heads and not look around us. Then, he invited anyone who who felt moved, to come down the hill in a show of devotion.

So, I sat there, eyes shut, oblivious, while he became more and more shrill. The man was working hard. Finally, I peeked over to my right and didn't see anyone, then to the left. Nobody. So I lifted my head, and I was the only person left sitting on the side of that hill, wouldn't you know? He was looking at me, fire in his eyes, and determination in his very being, until I said, "I'm just visiting."

Thus endeth my experience in the Baptist Church.


saz said...

"I'm just visiting"...too funny Betty!

gawilli said...

And Amen to that.

Jay said...

"I'm just visiting" .. beautiful.

patsy said...

bet you were a hit.

willi said...

Go girl! I am proud that stayed on the hill. Just visiting was a great come back.

F&W said...

Glad you stayed on the hill! ;)

John said...

As one who went to a Church of England school and immediatley became an atheist I have some idea of how you must have felt. I have a cousin who is a Baptist minister. Needless to say we are not that 'close'. Great story !

Peggy said...

I wouldn't have stayed on the hill. I was so compelled by peer pressure when I was younger. Now, I could't give two hoots. I'm impressed how well you stuck to your guns and your seat.

Annie said...

That's a story that could start lots of stories from your readers about their own experiences with organized religion.

My own Baptist church experience had to do with the following: I was attending the 11:00 service for one of my first times when I noticed a black man sitting among the sea of white faces. I commented to my friend sitting next to me, the one who'd invited me to be a member of her church, that I was impressed that the church was integrated. She replied, "Oh no, he's not a member, he's from Africa and one of our missionaries has brought him here to testify."

I didn't join the church! I knew, even then, that the only church I'd ever join would be open to and embracing of any and all.