This is a brief summary of the first seven years of my church experiences after leaving the United Pentecostal Church. Understand that for several years afterward, I still believed the main salvation teachings of the group.
When I left my former UPC church in late 1993, I’d already been introduced to a church in West Orange, NJ which had not long before voted to pull out of the organization. When I resigned from my church, I would attend as I was able (it was two hours away). There was only one other local UPC in my area. I knew my former pastor still had feelings against that UPC pastor and church. (Before I ever started attending, there had been a split in the church which eventually led to this other one starting in a nearby town.) Even though I would have been accepted at this local church, even in not upholding standards, I knew that to go would be upsetting to my former pastor. During the time I was a member, my pastor would periodically say negative things in sermons about that church, some of the people, and its pastor. This went on for years after the split had taken place. If it upset him to have to stand behind and pray for this man at his UPC ordination (he didn’t like that Wayne Trout, the District Superintendent, had him do this), it wouldn’t have helped the situation had I left our church and joined this one.
Several months after I left, the pastor was told by one of my friends that I’d written some findings on the hair teaching. He called pastors to warn them about me. This isn’t hearsay as I heard it directly from one of the pastors he called, which was the nearby church. I have no idea if he just called the churches in the southern part of the state or if it was more widespread. Because of his actions, other than this local church that had started after a split, there would be no way I could have attended any of the others. While I did meet with the pastor of the nearby church and even gave him a copy of my writings on hair, which he asked to keep, by that time I knew I couldn’t live what I considered a lie. I’d be welcomed there but could never be used other than in giving a testimony, helping clean or raise funds, or something similar. At the time, I knew I’d want to be active anywhere I attended and to do so would necessitate adhering to all the things that I no longer saw as biblical. I simply couldn’t do it.
All this time I was still attending the church two hours away when I could. As the weeks went on, there were others who became upset with things happening at my former church (that had to do with the pastor) and more left. We contacted the pastor from the West Orange church to see about starting a cell group locally as his church had several of these. I started attending more regularly there and some of us attended a class for this type of leadership. However, during this same time there were all kinds of things happening at my former church and they hit me very hard. I had many emotions and feelings I was dealing with, sometimes not very well.
I felt that while I was grappling with all that, I shouldn’t be in a leadership position. I was supposed to help with the cell group (they call them life groups) and another couple would lead them. To be in a leadership position in these home groups, you had to join the church as a member. I didn’t attend a membership explanation meeting and due to the the way the pastor approached me about missing it, it didn’t sit well and I was feeling pressured. He already knew how I was feeling and never shared prior to it that it was necessary for me to attend.
So they started the group and I didn’t join the church. The pastor didn’t attend our home meetings, but made the lessons for them. At the very first local cell gathering, there was something odd introduced there which I’d never heard before and questioned, though I didn’t do so at the meeting. All of the things combined led me to stop attending. Eventually, everyone from my former church who had gone there left for one reason or another.
As shared at the beginning, at the time I was still very much UPC in doctrine with the exception of standards. Because of this, every Trinitarian church was automatically put out of the picture, sight unseen. There were only a handful of UPC churches in the entire state, so for any smaller Oneness Pentecostal group, there were even fewer, if any at all. I called different places that others would share about and they just didn’t line up with the doctrine in one way or another. Eventually I just gave up looking.
Years later when I saw error in the main teachings, so much time had passed in not attending a church that the thought of doing so brought about a bit of apprehension. I had no idea how other churches operated or what would be expected of me as a member or attender. All I’d known was the UPC. This is why church attendance was a problem for me during this time.
When one exits an unhealthy church, it is important to take the time and effort to examine the teachings. Had I looked into the main salvation teachings then, I wouldn’t have been extremely limited in potential new places of worship.