I struggled with beginning this story. Any faith journey is very personal and I am still not sure I am comfortable posting this for the world to see. Still, I keep telling myself that this is really for my grandkids and it is part of my story that they should see.
I don’t have a lot of church memories before about 6th grade. I know we were never regular church goers. Pretty much we were Christmas and Easter Christians. I know my parents believed, but just were not interested in formal religion. My Dad was reared in the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania. I have no idea if they were regularly attending members of Zion Lutheran in Girardville, but I do know that whenever Wayne and I would visit there in our youth we went to Sunday school. It was always a bit of a language issue because, though we all spoke some variety of English, it was sufficiently different enough to cause giggles from the Yankee side of the equation.
My grandparents on my Mom’s side were a split denomination couple. Grandmam Huff attended the First Baptist Church in Oak Grove, when she went, which was not regularly. Granddaddy Huff would drop her off at the Baptist Church and head over to First Methodist Church to attend, again when he went. I have no way of confirming this story, but I recall my Dad telling me that shortly before he married Mom, she was baptized. I have no idea where or by what method she was baptized, but it was apparently important to one or both of them that she enter into this marriage with her baptized.
So, you can see that there was no pressure on us to go to Sunday school or church in our family. I recall many times lying on the living room floor on Sunday mornings with the funny papers listening to the guy on the radio reading them as we followed along, while my friends were mostly in church. It was probably part way through 6th grade that I began noticing girls. In 7th grade it occurred to me that the girls were in church on Sunday mornings and that might be a pretty safe place to engage them. Being extremely shy, I needed the safety net of having others around me before I would talk to a girl. I went to the First Baptist Church a couple times and for some reason the message didn’t speak to me. Could have been that I was afraid they would push me into baptism and I didn’t really understand all of that at the time. Anyway, I started going to the First Methodist Church and found a Sunday school teacher that really touched me. Mrs. Melba McIntosh taught me Sunday school through my high school days and she would patiently answer my sometimes quirky questions. Brother Tatum was one of the preachers, but I remember more about Mrs. Melba from those days. I think he was replaced by Brother Walker. I still don’t know why the Methodist pastors were addressed as Brother instead of Pastor.
In high school, I got involved in the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) and this gave me a social outlet that allowed me to mingle with girls without any pressure. I wish I could remember who all was in the MYF with me. I do remember Dennis Sanford there. If any of you are reading this, please let me know if you were in the MYF with me.
I wish I had a more inspirational account of my baptism experience, but it was really not that dramatic. It does have a bit of a funny twist though. I can’t recall if it were in 8th or 9th grade, but at MYF one evening someone asked if I had been baptized. I told them that I didn’t think so. Well before you knew it I was scheduled with several others to get baptized at the Methodist Church. I recall we had to each memorize and recite a scripture. I learned John 3:16 and recited it in church then went down with the others to have Holy Water poured over my head. Being a stutterer reciting the scripture was probably the most stressful and memorable part of the whole event. I remember that we were given a choice of either being immersed or having water poured over us. I figured the pouring would be sufficient and went that way. Now the funny twist, I never told Mom and Dad about the baptism because I didn’t think it was that significant in the greater scheme of things. Many years later, after I was grown, married, and had children of my own, I found my old baby book and saw that I had been baptized at Zion Lutheran Church in Girardville, PA as an infant.
I spent most of my college years as a reluctant Christian. I rarely went to church unless some girl asked me to go with her. I did make it on Christmas and Easter though. This pretty much was my approach to religion for several years. Then I met Nancy Williams. Nancy’s family was as staunch a group of Southern Baptists as there were around. Several of her cousins, their parents and now their children spent a great deal of time as missionaries in various countries in Africa. We were married in the First Baptist Church in Bastrop, LA. I was pretty content going to the Baptist Church when we were home for a visit. We would go with Nancy’s parents.
When I went on active duty in the Army, Nancy would ask me if I wanted to go to church with her, we went to Protestant Chapel on post. I went sometimes, but not at all regularly. Then I went to Vietnam. Some of you may have heard the old saying, “No atheists in foxholes,” well I became a practicing Christian in Vietnam. Anytime a chaplain visited one of the firebases I happened to be on at the time, I was at the service. Didn’t care what denomination the Chaplain was, I was there. When I got home after my tour, we were at Nancy’s parents’ house and I was up and dressed and told her I was going to church with her mother and she was welcome to join us if she wished. Both of us have been pretty steadily going to church services ever since. While we were on active duty it was always Protestant Chapel on post until we moved to Virginia. We went to the Army Chapel on Fort Belvoir until we moved south about 40 miles to Stafford, VA. That was too far to drive up every Sunday. We tried the Marine Corps Chapel at Quantico, VA once and we just were not comfortable there. Every one of the twelve stained glass windows in the chapel had a Marine battle scene. I get why this is important to Marines, but not for this Army guy.
Not long after that visit we were asked by a lady that taught our daughters drama classes in Kinder Kare if our older daughter could participate in a play at St. Peter Lutheran Church. Kinder Kare was a pre-school and child care facility in Stafford. We said it would be fine if she wanted to. We went to the play in 1983 and have been regularly attending Lutheran Churches ever since.