My story’s not that typical, in that I have never been a member of the UPC myself. However, a loved one I’m very close to has been and it has played a role in both his attitudes towards religion/spirituality.
Mom and I are both Massachusetts natives, with church experiences that were somewhat typical for the area. My mother was raised Congregationalist, in a church affiliated with the UCC at the time. Her only experience with any sort of fundamentalist Christianity was in the form of a visit to a friend’s church when she was in between denominations, and it wasn’t a positive experience. My biological father had been raised Episcopalian, and Mom became interested after reading some of the prayers and seeing how the liturgy was done in his military-edition Book of Common Prayer. She was later confirmed, and this was the denomination I was raised in.
My stepdad, Jon, on the other hand, had a mostly toxic experience from the start. He was adopted by a Texas family, and there was abuse at the hands of his stepfather that didn’t make things any easier. Jon’s immediate family attended a Baptist congregation that, at one time, had a minister that half the congregation followed out of state when he took a new position. This man, from what I understand, had been more interested in preaching his political agenda than the Gospel.
At the other end of the spectrum, his stepfather’s family was mostly UPC. Even though they were, by his account, more nurturing towards him, there was always a push to get him into the UPC. His grandmother on that side of the family was particularly staunch in her beliefs, and her daughter, who is close to Jon in age, has always harbored the belief that he was just inches from joining.
Jon started to question at lot of what was taught in the Baptist congregation from early on, and faced serious harassment from his stepfather and adoptive mother for it. He was equally skeptical of the UPC, and the fact that he attended their services mainly for the music made some of his relatives read too much into the whole thing. By the time he was old enough to go out on his own, I think he was pretty well burned out on the whole church thing. Over the years, he had attended services from various denominations here and there, but nothing had really appealed to him aside from a friendship with a Lutheran pastor whose congregation he had done some electrical work for.
Things started to take some interesting turns when he and my mom got together. Several events in his life helped make me realize that, as someone who is like a daughter to him, he was struggling with certain spiritual issues from his past that I could hopefully help him with. Jon’s story is one that’s still very much a work in progress, but I hope that my mom and I, with God’s help, can help him truly understand the idea of grace. I’m very thankful for certain people who have been there along the way.