Sunday, July 29, 2012

Maggie's Baptism

My sister-in-law, Maggie Smith Shumaker, has written three other guest blogs. For today's blog, I asked her to tell the story of her own baptism. For those of us born and raised in the Oregon City FOC group, the decision to be baptized is not an easy one. Please read on to understand the emotional and spiritual struggle that is typical of those who have left this group with so many unanswered questions.

* * * * *

I think the first conversation I can recollect about baptism with an adult was my mom telling me there would be a way made for us younger ones that were not baptized. I think I was 11 or 12 because I was given a thin black King James New Testament and I had been reading it at night in bed. All this reading about baptism, and I didn't understand why or how or when someone would get baptized.

We sang songs at church about being washed in the blood of the lamb, so I thought baptism would wash me clean. I needed to be cleaned from all the lies I told and how mean I was to my friends.  We sang about gathering at the river, and I dreaded having to go into a river in my church clothes. I was told about a "tank" in a storage room where we played as kids. I couldn't see it, but I'd heard people talk about it. That's where the preacher had baptized other people. But no one used it anymore. No one was allowed to baptize anyone else. I was scared to think about having to go into that tank.

The next conversation I can remember was with a friend's mother, at her house, in her dining room. Not sure of the age, I believe I was driving age, but could have been about 14. I'm not sure what happened to spark the topic, but she assured my friend and I that we could possibly be baptized in the rain. God could do anything, and with His power, the rain would make us clean.  I asked, "So, we could be baptized and not even know it?" she assured me, God had that power. I didn't doubt that power, I knew He was powerful and I was scared to death of Him coming back at the end of time.

In 1993, I started a relationship with my best friend. He talked about baptism, wanting to be baptized so badly. I hadn't thought about it much just that I knew I should be. There was no way to be baptized in our church. My companion prayed for it daily. He prayed for a preacher to baptize him. So, I joined him in praying. We were married and then had two children.

Within a few years, I believed the same as my companion. I earnestly wanted to be baptized. There wasn't a way for us in the church we attended to be baptized. If Jesus were baptized, then I should be too. If He didn't care if people were baptized, He wouldn't have instructed them to do so.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Mark 16:16-18

In 1999, this led us in our search for a church. We left in search of the "right church" with someone that that could baptize us. We went all of 750 miles away to a place called Idaho Falls for my husband's job. We searched for churches that believed in full submersion baptism, like they did in the Bible.

"Let's go there." I said, as we drove past Gethsemane Baptist. "They believe we need to be baptized." I added.

We attended Gethsemane for several months, but the preacher there would not baptize me. I was supposed to be born again, saved, and knew for sure I was going to heaven BEFORE he would allow me to be baptized. We couldn't take part in the Lord's Supper until we were baptized. “Well, I'll never believe one can know that they're going to Heaven for sure." I'm doomed!  The more I heard of it, the more I believed that I was saved. Jesus actually died on the cross to pay for the sins of everyone on the planet, so that meant me! I prayed with a lady at church, told my husband, "I believe I'm saved, and I don't care what you think." Wow...what a Godly example!  It took me awhile to believe this for real, as I still couldn't believe that would keep me out of hell, and promise me eternity in Heaven. We kept attending until we found something more along the lines of our beliefs.

A few months later, and a much longer story, we started attending Followers of Christ in Marsing, ID. By March 2001, after my husband had been baptized there, I knew this was where I was going to be baptized.

It wasn't a hot day, but warm and sunny. Church was warm, but again, I was eight months pregnant with my daughter. The last song was called, and we all stood, I was filled with excitement that if they were going to ask for people to give their hearts to Jesus, I would be one of them. I wanted to live for Jesus for the rest of my life, and by living for Jesus, it meant I get to be baptized. Something I'd wanted for about eight years. The time had come, they gave the invitation to give them your hand, and give your heart to Jesus Christ. I smiled at my husband, and he patted my back. I walked up to the pulpit, after about two or three had already gone up. I stood up there, shaking, crying, so elated that I was going to get to be baptized, and have the pureness of what my husband had.

I believe, if I remember correctly, there were 13 baptized that afternoon. It was a beautiful day. We lined up around the water at a couple's house that had lots of property. It was private, and a natural spring, that didn't freeze over in the winter. Everyone sang a song, and watched as each person walked into the water, and was baptized by the preacher that dunked them under and rose them up again. Then, it was my turn. I was very seriously praying that God would help me feel "something". I wasn't sure what it would feel like, but I wanted some feeling.

As I stood there, chilled by the cool water, up to my chest, I bowed my head as the preacher prayed. I kept praying for God to let me feel something. I think I was more concerned about "feeling" something than anything. I don't know why.  I can't remember the exact words, since I was praying in my head, but the preacher said something like "Sister Maggie, I baptize you in the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost." (I think)

As I went down under the water, with my eyes closed, and brought back up, I saw a brightness. It was like I could see the sky but couldn't make anything out but light. Then, I was upright again, and so happy. I went to meet my husband at the shore and he wrapped me in a blanket.

There were more that day, and when everyone that wanted to be baptized was done, there was meeting more people, "greeting" them, as they came to greet me with a holy kiss. Now I was baptized, and COULD greet people that were also baptized.

After we left the property where the baptisms were, we went back to my cousin's for a potluck. Then, later that evening, we went back to the church for the Lord's Supper and foot washing. As tradition, every time there is baptism, there is a meeting with the supper and foot washing. I'd experienced this when my husband was baptized. It was beautiful and I wanted to partake of it so badly, but when he was baptized, I was not. I couldn't join. All I could do was sing the songs they called out as the feet were being washed.

Before the supper and foot washing, they had all that were baptized that day sit up on the pulpit. There was the laying on of hands to do before we could move forward. The giving of the Holy Spirit. As both preachers approached me, and put their hands on my head, I closed my eyes as they prayed. I just prayed for a "feeling". I wanted to feel like I'd been struck by the hand of God himself as that Holy Spirit went into me and lived inside me.

We all sat back down, and put our coats on.  John 13:4: “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” If He laid aside His garment, He had taken something off. We used coats to signify a garment.

So, the preachers stood on the pulpit and blessed the bread that symbolized Jesus body. They broke the big pieces of bread that had been made earlier that afternoon and placed the pieces on a tray.

They blessed the wine after pouring it in a large stein.  The Elders passed a tray of unleavened bread and we took a piece and ate it. Then came a large stein of wine. We took a sip and passed it on to the next person. After we took the supper, we removed our coat.

When everyone had partaken of the Lord's Supper, the woman gathered at the front of the building, and the men at the back of the building, as in line to have their feet washed.

After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
John 13:5

Each woman, (where I was sitting and could see) would wrap a towel around themselves and drape part of it over their shoulder. One woman sitting on a bench, and one kneeled down by the pan of water. The woman kneeled would wash the feet of the woman sitting, then dry her feet with the towel. They'd both stand, greet one another, and then gird the woman that just got her feet washed with the towel, and the process would repeat until all the women had partaken of the foot washing. Sometimes, women would have to have their feet washed twice, so another could wash feet.

When the foot washing was over, service ended with a song and a prayer and we all dispersed at about 11:30 pm or later. This was about a 6 hour meeting.

It wasn't too much after this that we moved from Idaho Falls, to Nampa, ID and regularly attended this church. Nine months after moving to a place I'd thought I'd live the rest of my life, my husband moved us to WA for his job. I thought this was the end of my world, it was not a good move for me....I thought.

Little did I know, moving away from there at that time, was probably the best thing for our family's life. I believe that Jesus Christ exists outside of Marsing, ID. Something I had started to forget living in Nampa.  There are believers in Christ all over this world, and I was put on a street with one of the most faithful followers of them all.  She invited me to her women's group, learning the scripture of Titus 2. Wow...women teaching other women how to love their husband and children! This is totally what I need right now! 

News of this did not go over well with some women in ID. But, I believed it was making me a better wife, and mother, and it was biblical. Some called these women "unbelievers" saying I was being unequally yoked. They hadn't met these women, how did they know? They looked the same as the women in ID. Long hair, wore dresses exclusively, made their own bread and clothes soap...I was saddened by their false accusations of them being unbelievers. I'd never seen a woman's bible so worn than in this small group of devoted followers of Christ!

Since then, my views of baptism have changed, and are more aligned to the Word of God. I no longer believe that it washes away your sins. Just as I was told in Idaho Falls, by the pastor at Gethsemane Baptist, it doesn't even clean between your toes.  I do not believe one has to be baptized by a certain man in a certain church. I do not believe that if one is baptized it entitles them to special privileges that un-baptized people are not privy to. I would encourage any believer to be baptized, as Jesus did, but if you die knowing He forgives you of your sins, and you follow him closely, do not fear that you will be burning in Hell for eternity. God does not work that way.

Forgiveness of sin is accepting Jesus as the one and only sacrifice for the sins of the world and allowing Him to dwell in your heart, with His power, gifting you with the Holy Spirit that "saves" you from being a sinner, from the darkness of the world, having your name written in the book of life, forever in the palm of His hand, that nothing can pluck you from.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:  And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
John 10:27-29

"Thank you Lord, for opening our eyes to the truth of your word, and instilling it in our hearts to never be swayed again. In Jesus name" 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brian's Story

My name is Brian Moore, I am 23 years old. I came from the Oregon City Followers of Christ Church and this is my story.

I was born into the Follower church, and by the grace of God I made it out of there. When I was very young I remember going to different churches with my family, much of my childhood I was taught that the Followers were not right in much of what they taught and believed. I was taught that we had to find a different church.

Unfortunately my father passed away when I was 14, we never found a new church home. So back into the Follower church we went, my father's passing left me with more questions than answers, I was too young to put my foot down and say no, so I had to go back into the place that I feared the most. I was a quiet kid, very fearful.

It wasn't long until I was sucked back in, and partially brainwashed, in the back of my mind there was always the concern that maybe this wasn't where I was supposed to be, not where God wanted me, so with this fear I had that they were going to confuse me about religion I didn't ask a lot of questions. I stopped reading the bible – why would I have continued? It was never a driving force in the lives of the people that I lived with, we never had any bible studies as a family in either house that I lived in, so I was away from the word for about six years.

I started listening to music and going to concerts all of the time, it was like a form of worship. Was I worshiping God with joy? No! But the band that is coming next week sure brings me joy! I was giving myself over to idolatry and had no idea! This happiness was very fleeting and empty. It was like there was something missing from my life.

I soon realized that I didn't fit in, a few of my friends started to leave, I didn't have much intention of leaving but I wasn't completely closed off to it, the fear of course was that I would go to hell if I did leave, so I decided to stay for the time being, but I still kept in contact with my friends.

One evening out of the blue I got a phone call from a Colorado area code, it was a young lady. She said, "Is so and so there?" I said, "You must have the wrong number, goodbye." She said, "Don't hang up! Talk to me." So I went along with it I talked to her for two-and-a-half hours. It ended with a pretty standard goodbye see you later. Well someone over heard me. I was caught no denying that I was talking to a "worldly girl" (gasp!). So the questioning began, "Who was that?" "Wrong number!" "For two and a half hours? Brian, what church do you go to?"

The idea that we can't have relationships with ANYONE outside of the church is taught by everyone. Sure you could make small talk with a peer or coworker, but never anything more than that. The day that I was asked the question "what church do you go to?" was the exact moment that I decided I didn't want to attend there anymore.

The shunning started because of my refusal to comply with this legalistic friend situation. I still kept in contact with them though. It took me a year longer than I wanted it to before I decided it was time for my departure, but praise the Lord I left and am now free in Christ Jesus.

I left with one scripture in mind, Mark 16:16, wow Jesus said this so it must be true. So now it was time to trust in him. I was baptized on Feb. 19th 2011 praise the Lord for this! I have taken a lot of heat for this but I am still proud!

I could never understand why they have this mind set, after all isn't Doesn't God wish for none to perish but all to come to repentance? (2 Peter 3:9)
Why they think that you have to have a special man to do it, Acts 8:36-38 do you believe with all of your heart? Then you may! Baptism is actually between the believer and God, a good conscience toward God. (1st Peter 3:21)

And of course the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, for you and your children and all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself. (Acts 2:38-39)

I have tried to reach out to certain family members but it seems futile. I now see that this is because they are not used to the word of righteousness, they have barely had any milk, so the meaty teaching I would try to give them was pointless no matter how well it was put together. (Hebrews 5:13,14).

I will continue in this fight because God did send me someone, He made a way, and His name is Jesus Christ, John 14:6.

If anyone would like to contact me my email address is
Until next time may the Lord Jesus Christ bless those of you that are His, keep you and watch over you, make His face shine upon you, be gracious to you and grant you peace in Jesus name amen!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is Rebaptism Biblical?

As much as I enjoy exploring religious topics and learning about the history of the Christian church and its myriad sects, I am far from being a biblical scholar or theologian. Please keep this in mind as I explore the important and controversial subject of baptism and rebaptism.

The Followers teach that only a very special man can perform biblical baptism. The man must be “called” by God to be a preacher. The calling comes about in ways that are clear to both the newly called preacher and to other godly men who have confirmation visions, dreams, or other signs. A man cannot just say, “I’ve been called” and be accepted, it must be confirmed by others.

When I was young, I knew some older people in the church who had been baptized in other churches and then joined the Followers where they were told they needed a true baptism by a man called by God – Walter. Two of the folks who were baptized by Walter after having been baptized earlier in their lives were my uncle and my grandmother (on my dad’s side of the family). Both of them left the church after Walter died and before my birth. I'm told (and the baptism records confirm) that in the last few months of Walter’s baptism ministry, many outsiders came to be baptized, and very few of them stayed around long after his death.

So I have been wondering about this: is rebaptism biblical? Is it necessary? In my search, the first bible verse I found led me to believe that rebaptism is not biblical:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Ephesians 4:5-6 (KJV)

But that didn’t address the claim that only certain baptisms count – the critical belief among the Followers that the person doing the baptism holds the key to salvation. Last December, Jerry Patton wrote a guest blog exploring the requirements for a person who performs baptisms. Who Can Baptize

I wasn’t satisfied with the very brief hint of “one baptism” in the Ephesians verse, so I read up a bit more and found other relevant verses. This verse, from the book of Acts, refers to some men who had been baptized by John the Baptist, and then were rebaptized by the apostle Paul, in the name of Jesus.

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, we have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.  And he said unto them, unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Acts 19: 1-6

This verse brings up another question: most churches (including, I’m told, The Church of the Firstborn) baptize “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” but here we are told to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

I grew up believing, as I was told, that baptism is what saves a person’s soul. But as an adult, the vast majority of Christians I met outside the FOC believed that making a commitment to follow Christ, along with a prayer (the sinner’s prayer) asking for forgiveness and inviting Jesus into one's heart was what saves. As a Follower, I understood Jesus’s statement to Nicodemus in John 3:5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” to mean that you must be baptized with water to be saved. While the understanding of most Christians is that being “born of water” happens to us at birth, and being born of the Spirit happens when we accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. And this makes sense; I accepted the new explanation with relief. But I have been digging deeper into scripture and I wonder about other verses such as this:

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Mark 16:16 (KJV)

I’m not sure what to make of it. In the first part of the sentence it is belief and baptism that saves; but the second half states that unbelief results in damnation. Is it possible that those who believe, but are not baptized will end up in neither heaven nor hell? And here is another verse that leads me to the conclusion that baptism is a requirement of salvation:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 2:28 (KJV)

I had never realized that the New Testament refers to the baptism of Noah’s family. Here it is along with a clear indication that baptism leads to salvation:

to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1 Peter 3:20-21 (NIV)

In doing the research for this blog entry, I spoke to a number of fundamentalists. Two of them said that rebaptism is a sin and is recrucifying Christ. I tried to find a biblical reference for this – but found that this idea may have originated with Martin Luther (the protestant reformer who brought to light the sins and heresies of the Catholic Church). The term Anabaptist means to re-baptize, and centuries ago, Anabaptists were executed for their beliefs.

I have a lot of questions. I find that the more I learn the less confidence I have in what I “know.”  A good sign of spiritual (and intellectual) growth, I think. What do you think? Is rebaptism a sin? Who has the authority to baptize people? And, if people back in Walter White’s days were rebaptized by him, then why is it such an unforgivable sin when one of the Followers gets baptized in another church? Is it better to remain unbaptized, considering all the evidence of our need for baptism? And if God does send you another leader, can’t those people just be rebaptized?


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Old Haunts

Do you believe in ghosts? I have personally experienced and seen beings that were not flesh and blood human – though I’m not sure if they were ghosts, spirits, angels, or something else. I was not afraid of them, and I’m not afraid of going into places that are known (said?) to be haunted.

A few weeks ago, while on a writing retreat on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire, I attended a gathering of more than fifty writers in a small graveyard at just after 9pm for ghost stories. While we listened a few of the gathered stood and told of their own otherworldly encounters.

A fellow writer was feeling sick, but she left her Android loaded with a Ghost Radar app for us to run. I volunteered to hold the Android – curious what technology could possibly pick up of another dimension. What it picked up were several random words and three names: Mary, Edward, and Elizabeth. The next morning, I headed back to the graveyard to look for the names – there were less than thirty graves total, and guess what? There were gravestones bearing the names of Mary, Edward, and Elizabeth.

* * * * *

This past Thursday morning, I dressed in grey corduroy pants and a lightweight grey cotton t-shirt, socks – despite the July heat wave, and tennis shoes. Not my typical summer teaching apparel – which, lately has been maxi-skirts and dresses. It was the first time my students would see me dressed casually and I wondered how they’d react. I couldn’t wear a floor length skirt and high heels for the what I had planned immediately following my morning lecture. I needed to be able to move comfortably. But, considering the heat of the day, a skirt would’ve been nicer.

I left the campus with the last of my students and hurried out to my overheated car. Sweat pouffed my blow out and streaked my make-up. Oh, cursed summer, why do I even bother? My gut ached and my mind played out scenarios of being arrested for trespassing on private property. Would they impound my car too?

I hope nobody’s there. It’s Thursday, so hopefully they’re getting ready for church [at 1:15?]. Maybe there’s a funeral today.

As I got closer, I realized I wasn’t sure where the turnoff was. It had been at least 17 or 18 years since I’d been out there - maybe longer. I knew the main road and what side of the road and how to tell if I’d gone too far. I remembered the dip in the highway where cars exceed the posted 55/mph and where a church member had a fatal car crash on the way to my great-aunt’s funeral in 1992. I reached the road where my childhood home had been, too far. I turned around and found the right side road on the first try.

Despite the full power air conditioning that had been cooling me down, I felt sweat sliding down my sides. My heart beat sped up as I approached the site – and I was ready to turn around and leave when I saw the groundskeeper spraying around the gravestones. I parked in front of the “No Trespassing” sign.

I got out of the car and walked through the open gate. I didn’t recognize the groundskeeper, but he looked like he could be a Follower – short hair, clean cut. It wasn’t the same person who kept the grounds all my life – he was now buried in this cemetery.

I walked among the gravestones and saw many familiar names. My ex-boyfriend was there, and his baby son. His best friend was also there. Many girls and young women who were younger than me. Girls I’d known growing up, and guys. And then there were the babies and toddlers. I counted thirty nine little ones buried all together – those were the ones who had headstones, many had just plastic markers which were overgrown. There were at least another twenty buried among the adult graves – not counting those dating back before the 1930s when the church began using the cemetery. There are a number of gravestones from non-Followers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

It made me sad to see graves of babies from the year I was born – 1973 (it made me sad seeing all the babies' and childrens' graves). These might have been my friends had they survived. And something else struck me about that year – an irony, maybe some savvy readers will comment on it.

I spent about two hours walking among those graves. The cemetery is a sacred place in the Follower tradition. Here lies Walter White, our leader. When Christ returns, when the trumpet blows, the faithful Followers buried here will rise. I always believed that Jesus was coming back to Oregon City – either to the church building or to this cemetery to claim his faithful and judge those of us who didn’t cut it.

A few years ago my parents began talking about being cremated when they died. I was shocked to say the least. Why would you want to have your flesh incinerated when you had spent your entire lifetime in fear of an eternity of incineration? Never. Also, how could you be raised from the dead at the rapture if your body was ashes – and some people actually scatter the ashes of their loved ones. What happens then?

Of course, intellectually, I realize that a person’s burial site and the condition of their remains does not affect their final destination. But I still dislike the idea of cremation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I went to school with Mormons. I didn't know it though and it wouldn't have mattered. Everyone who wasn't a Follower was a worldly person. They could worship whoever and however they chose, they were lost to eternity regardless.

In college, my United States history teacher introduced the Mormons in a way that left no doubt in my mind what she thought of the religion. The essence of her explanation was that there was a man named Joseph Smith who claimed angels talked to him and revealed new Holy Scriptures to him. He founded a new religion – Mormonism – and conveniently instituted the practice of polygamy in his religion which caused persecution and thus westward migration and the founding of the state of Utah. My professor clearly did not think highly of this religion.

Not long after that, I ran into an old high school classmate, who revealed that she had grown up Mormon, and went on to list off the names of our Mormon classmates – some very popular kids. I had no idea.

Two years later I became friends with a coworker who referred to herself as a “Jack Mormon” – a term she explained meant that she was raised in the Mormon religion but was not practicing the religion. She was a “Jack Mormon” rather than an ex-Mormon because if and when she ever returned to a faith, it would be Mormonism. My friend, we’ll call her Wendy (but that’s not her name) and I shared many coffee dates – we also shared many adult beverages, and she taught me to smoke cigarettes.

Three years into our friendship, Wendy moved to a town near Reno, Nevada. I agreed to drive down with her and fly home so she wouldn’t be alone. On the drive down, Wendy smoked her pot pipe regularly until I reached my threshold and asked for the keys. Modern day Suzi would’ve demanded the keys immediately, but my personality hadn’t developed quite so much back then.

I stayed with Wendy for a few days – we visited Lake Tahoe and had some home cooked meals. Then I took a plane back home to Portland. It was the end of our close friendship, but we have continued to correspond and have visited each other a handful of times in the years since.

A few months after her move, Wendy went through a major crisis – the nature of which is now unimportant. But her personality changed dramatically during this period. I called her one evening and noticed that there was a complete serenity about the way she spoke of the terrible things she was going through.

“How can you be so peaceful?” I said.

“When I am scared or lonely or frustrated, I just get down on my knees and talk to Jesus.” She said.

What had happened to my free-spirited, pot-smoking friend? I was intrigued.

A few weeks later, I flew down to Reno for a visit. She was living with a woman who owned a horse ranch and, in exchange for room and board, Wendy was training horses and giving individual horse riding lessons. The home and surroundings were beautiful.

The day after I arrived, Wendy and I took to the mountain and had a blast skiing. That evening – it was a Saturday night in a small town, Wendy’s host invited us out to hear some live music at a tavern. Wendy and I were both in our mid-twenties, but neither of us were drinkers at that point (alcohol never agreed much with me and Wendy had quit drinking). We sat at the bar sipping our caffeine-free sodas while the typical tavern patrons stared at us in disbelief.

Finally, a man approached and asked if he could buy us drinks. We politely declined – we still had full sodas. Then he asked if we were there with a parent. I guess there had been a big debate as to our ages and how we were in a tavern. That was a nice compliment. Wendy was a tiny girl – tall but very thin – with beautiful long blond hair. It was easy to see how people would think she was ten years younger, and I liked being lumped into the same youthful category.

We danced with some of the locals - including some Marines from a local base - to the fun country-western band and that was the night Wendy met her future husband (a Marine), though she didn't expect that outcome at the time.

The next morning, Wendy brought me to her church. Yes, she was back in the full swing of her Mormon religion. I was curious to see what it was all about.

We were greeted by two “elders” who were nineteen or twenty years old. We went into the sanctuary and sat for the sermon. I didn’t hear most of the sermon because the church members each had four or five or a million young children climbing over and under the benches and being squirrelly. The Followers had their children in church too, but parents with small children sat in the back rows and the moms took their children to one of the baby rooms if they made a peep. By the time we were three we knew how to sit still and quiet during church.

After the service, we went to a bible study group – women only. The leader walked us through a lesson that had to do with the Book of Revelation and its related explanatory scriptures in one of the Mormon books. Interesting.

I never went back to a Mormon church – it’s never held any appeal or modicum of validity to me. But I have made many more Mormon friends and acquaintances – some good and some not so much. Many Mormon friends, coworkers, and missionaries (elders) have tried to convince and convict me of the truth of this religion, but alas, I am un-Mormonizable. If Mormonism is true, I will be stuck in a lower heaven for all of eternity - unless some future generation gets baptized in my stead after I die. Either way, I'm okay with the risk.

The church experiences I've described today and last week – my earliest ones after leaving the Followers of Christ in Oregon City – were the most difficult and confusing, as I judged them through the lens of my FOC experiences. But as I got into a habit of reading scripture for myself (rather than relying on my memories of what other people told me), and began to ask important questions and actually listen with an open mind, the more I began to see that there were true believers everywhere I went - but I was not yet one of them.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thy Barns Shall Be Filled With Plenty

Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10

Follower men pay a church fee of around a thousand dollars (the amount periodically increases, so I’m not sure what the current fee is) before they get married which – for most men – is in their late teens. After his marriage, a man pays a monthly due of fifty dollars (this too has increased over the years).

It’s not a bad deal. This lump sum payment and monthly dues covers all the health care the family will, in theory, need – corporate prayer of God’s chosen people. There is a church member who can set broken bones. Lay midwives provide free services for pregnant and birthing mothers. Volunteers will care for the sick and elderly. The church has a storeroom with hospital beds, wheelchairs, crutches, etc. The dues also cover the costs of the man’s wedding and funerals for himself, his wife, and his children. Not bad, but also not optional.

I didn’t know about tithing, though. The idea was new to me. For any reader who is, like I was, in the dark about this issue, let me explain. Tithing means giving ten percent of your income – before tax – to your local church each month. Here is the doctrine to support this practice: tithing scriptures. This is encouraged as an act of submission to God’s word – but not mandated. If you do not pay ten percent – or anything for that matter – nobody will call you and ask where your payment is (unless you’re Mormon – more about that in another post).

Parishioners are also encouraged to bring offerings to church services. In every church I have visited – and there have been a lot – with the exception of two, a collection plate, dish, fabric bag, or plastic bucket is passed around sometime during the worship (singing) portion of the service – either before or after the sermon. An offering is an amount of money that you give voluntarily that is above and beyond the ten percent tithe that you give out of obedience.

In my early days of seeking, I went to a fairly large church in Portland. I think I remember the name of the church, but I don’t want to represent a church by one experience, so the name will remain a mystery. Also, I have experienced other churches of this same denomination which were much different. Maybe you can identify it by your own experience.

The church service was televised live to a local audience – I’m not sure that’s important to this story, but I think so because the church had money. And the sermon was on the subject of wealth – the wealth of this world that God has in store for us, His faithful people.

The sanctuary was set up in a semi-circle around the stage. There was also a balcony – which is where I sat, owing to my late arrival. A row of padded chairs was set up on the pulpit and on these six chairs sat three couples, all very well dressed. As I think back on this experience – which happened more than fifteen years ago – I consider what a strange position members of the clergy find themselves in when selecting a wardrobe: on one hand they must dress well as a model to their parishioners, but on the other hand they are asking for financial sacrifices from people who may resent seeing their leaders wearing Valentino suits and their wives carrying Gucci bags while the members of the congregation give a chunk of their hard earned wages to support the ministry.

The three very well-dressed couples were – I thought – the senior pastor and his wife, and his sons and daughters-in-law. Now that I know a bit more about churches, I believe the three men may have all been pastors. It felt strange to have six people sitting on the stage - part of that being that I was accustomed to seeing nobody on the pulpit at church.

The sermon was about God’s plan for our financial prosperity. I am not joking about this. God wants us to enjoy all the earthly riches possible – that was the message I remember. Like I said this was fifteen plus years ago, but I still remember being horrified by this sermon. The pastor did use scripture to prove his points. Also, there are some things to say for all the good that can be done for those in need when we are financially prosperous – and he made these points as well.

But, I didn’t buy it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Charismatic Culture Shock

I am a persistent person and I’ve always been fascinated with God and religion. Even growing up in the FOC where answers were not forthcoming about these things, I pestered and persisted in asking how things were, why things were, what things were like back when…. Bad experiences couldn’t keep me from trying again. I wandered into yet another church. It was an Assemblies of God church. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

This church was large. The pastor found his way to me immediately, introduced himself, and made small talk. The church service was nice, the message was fascinating (and convicting), the songs were the same hymns I’d sang all those years in the FOC – only with emotion behind them, harmonizing, instruments, etc.

So everything was fine and good until that final prayer. Trouble. The pastor started calling people out – like he was reading their minds! I’d heard many stories of Walter White rebuking people from the pulpit and now I was experiencing something similar. He called people out and they came forward to have their sins cast out. Nobody refused to go; nobody seemed shocked that this man knew what they’d been up to.

I was, thankfully, in the back row. As this calling forward of the sinners continued, I slumped lower in my seat. What if he read my mind? What dark thoughts or deeds would be found? I moved on.

Did I mention that my dad grew up Pentecostal? Let me just stop and say that I have nothing against this form or Christianity; I have actually known some really wonderful Pentecostals. But you have to understand that my only knowledge of church was one where everyone, absolutely everyone – especially women and children – tried their very hardest to do nothing noticeable in church. And Pentecostals are not exactly known for quiet reverence in church.

I discovered a new church in another town. I don’t remember the name of it. I figured it was just a community church because it was operating out of an old school house. Nothing fancy.

I went in and sat down in the middle of the congregation. A few people came up and introduced themselves. Friendly, but not pushy. And then the service began.

Whoa. These people went wild. They danced and whooped – like everyone in the building. It felt like a trippy dream or a movie. It couldn’t really be happening, could it? These were the “holy rollers” I’d heard about growing up. Some were on the floor. Most danced around and hollered words and phrases that made no sense. Scary.

What could I do? I was surrounded by these people on all sides. I was not getting up. I was not going to dance around – it would’ve been fake if I had. I wanted to be anywhere but there, but I was too scared to stand and walk out the door – what if someone grabbed me and made me dance?
I have no idea what the sermon was about. None. I was traumatized.

A few months later, I was invited to community potluck. Cool. I like potlucks. I brought some cookies and my appetite. Sometime in the middle of that meal I realized what was going on. These people all belonged to that church. I was being recruited.

An older man cornered me and began to explain how I couldn’t be saved unless I had the gift of speaking in tongues. I politely disagreed – several times because he was adamant about convincing me – and escaped to my car.

Lesson learned: never go to a potluck unless you know what the agenda is.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My First Time

This would be my first time. My mom had given me some advice on what to do, and since she had years of experience doing it – before she joined the FOC – I actually listened to her.

Me - 1990s
Every one of them would be wrong. That was a given. The goal was to find one that was more right and less wrong than the others. Mom said that if I was going to go to a worldly church, Baptist was the way to go. Dad thought Pentecostal was better, more about that on Wednesday.

I decided to go to First Baptist Church in Gladstone. I didn’t want to go to a church in Oregon City in case any of my high school classmates recognized me at their church. I know, weird right?

I dressed for church the way I would dress going to the FOC. Women wore dresses or skirts, no exceptions. The skirt or dress had to hit below the knee.  We could wear straight skirts, but not too tight. There could be no cleavage showing, none. We dressed well, but always kept ourselves modestly covered. I arrived at FBC in my church attire, parked my car, and started to the front door. Things were not right.

Women were walking into the building wearing blue jeans. I’m not kidding about this. Shocked, stunned, horrified at the heresy before me, I turned and headed right back to my car.

A year or so later, I tried another church. This one was in Oregon City, where I was living again, attending the FOC sporadically and continuing to endure the corporate shunning. I was used to it. I went to a neighborhood church, nondenominational.

The women wore dresses, thank goodness. I was enthusiastically greeted by just about everyone in the tiny little church. No flying under the radar there – and certainly no shunning going on. The church service was interesting. It was the first time I had heard a sermon since Glenford Lee died back in 1986, but it was really difficult to focus on what the pastor was saying because he kept looking right at me and hinting about if I wanted to come forward. Uh, no. I did not want to come forward. I wanted to sit right where I was and be invisible. Check things out from a safe distance. At the end of the sermon there was prayer, then singing, then more prayer – and in this last prayer the pastor prayed for me – me, I tell you! – to come forward and confess. Everyone, everyone, turned to stare at me, willing me to stand and walk down the isle. 

OK, that was so not happening. Confess? To a church full of overeager strangers? No. 

I did not go back.

More adventures in church shopping to come ....