My earliest memories were of my mom, dad, and maternal grandparents, who were apparently helping my father build a church in a town that did not have a UPC church. I can remember my preacher Grandpa working on the building and my grandmother taking me out to see him on the scaffolding. I recall my mother reading me Bible stories, and some visiting preacher teasing me about my imaginary friends. I often played in my dad’s workplace, as he could not provide for the family without working a secular job.
When I look back at the pictures of that time, I see a happy little girl with curly blond hair and the prettiest dresses. The pictures nor the memories of that time reveal anything to me other than being loved and cared for. I wonder if my parents were perhaps different then. I heard them tell stories of “winning a family to God” only to find out that the man was beating his wife, so my dad addressed that with him and he eventually stopped. These are the stories I was told.
Eventually, we left there and went to another town where my dad took the pastorate of a church. I was preschool age, but I do remember him telling my mother about going to the home of one of the parishioners uninvited, at an unexpected moment because he felt the man was being deceptive about his lifestyle. He “caught” the man watching TV, which was strictly prohibited by the UPC (United Pentecostal Church) at that time, and he confronted the man about it. The man made up lie after lie as an excuse to hide this “sin”.
There was a woman in that church who suffered from bulimia. I remember the judgement and disgust with which she was discussed, with never any hint that this could be a serious illness. As a mental health provider, I now cringe at what she must have suffered in addition to the bulimia and its root causes. Religion without compassion can be very hard on people with mental health issues.
By that time I had an infant sibling. I remember church people getting mad at my parents for taking my sister out to spank her during church for things like fussing during church or other such age appropriate things. I remember being spanked with a “skinny belt” for asking one parent if I could go home with a friend and when that parent said no, asking the other parent.
My friends in the church had me over to their house one day in December and their mother said, in front of me, that there was no difference in a Christmas tree and the Christmas lights my mother had in our home. I was about five and I can still feel how sad I was when I told mom what these people had said, only to watch in horror as she took down all of the Christmas decorations in order not to “confuse and offend” church people who were being taught it was a “sin” to put up their Christmas trees.
My dad was often joking and fun during that time with us, and with his preacher friends. I often heard them sit around the table and argue about scriptures, and then in the next breath tell racial jokes that are appalling to me now.
During that time, I first became aware that I was “lost” because I didn’t have the Holy Ghost. I went down to the altar and cried, not understanding everything yet. I told my family I was now a Christian and had the Holy Ghost because I went to the altar and prayed. They explained to me that I had to “speak in another language” in order to get the Holy Ghost. My sister by this time was getting old enough to play church with me. We were strictly forbidden to ever play like we were “getting the Holy Ghost” by jabbering nonsense. Instead, we would close our mouths tight and jump around to show that we were “getting the Holy Ghost” in order to not play with sacred things. I have a distinct memory of a teen who was “seeking” the Holy Ghost and fell out on the floor with people all around her. I was fascinated by watching her mouth upside down as she was speaking in tongues.
I was constantly watching my baby sister with a stuffed animal in church and feeling so jealous because I wasn’t allowed to play. I would secretly pretend my Bible was a baby and I was it’s mother, but if I moved it around too much I’d get in trouble so I had to be careful.
Eventually there was some kind of church problems of which I’m still not clear on all the details, but my dad resigned that church and bought a trailer to evangelize. They were already homeschooling me, so they would continue to do so as we traveled around the United States. I’ve heard my parents recount often the story of how they “dusted their shoes off” out the window of the vehicle as they left that town. My dad says God showed him there would never be a thriving church in that town because of the rebellion in the hearts of those people.
I was just a little girl. I don’t know the ins and outs, or if the people were truly rebellious. I can only share what I remember and have heard from that time.