I spent seven years in the first Pentecostal church I was in. The first was great. And then I went home for the summer. I didn’t like the Pentecostal churches in my parents’ area, but they were better than my parents’ church. Besides, I was committed and they believed closer to what I did, which was exactly the reason my Mom gave for us staying in a church I disliked and was alone at growing up. She didn’t argue, though she and Dad did argue about plenty.
After 18 years of church that taught nothing but the basic stories, my parents joined wholeheartedly in arguments about why I shouldn’t attend a Pentecostal church. They tried to force me to wear pants or shorts, which were against the rules for women at my new church. I had dreams that Mom would sneak in and cut my hair or insist that it be cut. She’d done that when I was younger. Their pressure made me more determined to stay Pentecostal. It gave me not one reason to leave.
I went to camp that summer excited that I would be seeing everyone from my church again, and found them totally disinterested in me. They were there to relax, shop, play, and to see their friends from other churches. And so for the first time since beginning to attend, I felt once more left out. I doubt I would have thought quite so much of it except that the pastor spent a lot of time with one young woman who was a newlywed. It was her first week apart from him, and he was very concerned about her well-being, having been separated from her new husband for a few days. I stood there watching, wondering “seriously? I’m away from my new church family for two months and no one cares, but she’s away from her husband for three days and you’re very concerned?” It was the first indication that something wasn’t right. It wouldn’t be the last.
I went back to college that fall and back to church. The first service I realized just how much had happened since I left. I felt like I was starting all over again. I wasn’t a part of them, and I wasn’t a new convert either. So this time no one cared. I looked forward to the day I’d graduate and be in one place. Three years later when I did, I moved to an apartment in town. And realized nothing had changed. I was still considered a youth. I wasn’t included in the women’s outings because I was younger than them and unmarried, but I didn’t relate to the high school youth group. After three more years of that and of struggling to make ends meet on a low paying job, I finally left, moving to a larger city, a different (hopefully better) job, and a church the pastor repeatedly invited me to join.
Things changed, but they didn’t.