If I had to pick a popular, recent television show that best resembled my church background, I would choose Desperate Housewives. If you haven’t seen the show, just picture this: chaos that abounds on one little neighborhood street for eight seasons straight. Who would have thought that a handful of denominations, some dysfunctional church bodies, and one great tragedy would result in me becoming a Catholic? Not me, but it happened.
I was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit at a local church of the Reformed ilk (just think ULTRA Calvinist). We weren’t members there, but we visited from time to time and my parents were friends with the pastor and a few of the elders. I later set foot back inside this same church while I was dating, oops, excuse me, “courting” a boy there. I am getting ahead of myself, let me slow down, and invite you to take a look inside my Protestant Suburbia.
When I was a little girl, winding, back country roads lead my family to a conservative, predominantly homeschooling, gender role adhering type of place week after week. The church was full of kind, down to earth people that met in a cold grange that smelled of mildew and coffee. I remember tambourines and restless kids climbing around counter tops in the kitchen area. I remember meeting other kids that were homeschooled, just like me. The floor was warped and bubbled, and kids got spanked in the bathroom. I wasn’t really sure why we left, but after a few years we took our exit and found our way to a church that believed in Sunday school and had a paved parking lot.
I was in fourth or fifth grade and I had never set foot in Sunday school. I was nervous and didn’t want to go, but my mom encouraged me to try it. I loved it, and loved my Sunday school teacher, whose name was Jo. We had traded the homey, yet lacking structure, country church for another type of experience in West Linn, OR. Most of the kids went to public school and celebrated Halloween; the mothers didn’t look like they hated their lives, and the church was warm. I never saw kids getting spanked in the bathroom. We stayed at this nondenominational, evangelical church until I started high school…and then we made a quick stop back at the church in the country.
The kids that used to get spanked in the bathroom were all grown up when we returned to the country church. The pastor still had a big, generous smile, and it still smelled of mildew and coffee. We stayed long enough for me to have a crush on one of the boys that used to be taken out to the bathroom on a regular basis, and then we parted ways to try a new church that had just been planted outside of Portland, OR.
At the church I went to during high school, you didn’t have a boyfriend. You had a friend, that you were considering submitting to for the rest of your life, and if you were lucky, he might just be attractive too. Sermons were long and weighty and after the service you were expected to head down to the basement, sit with your family and have a shared potluck meal with another family. I hated Sundays.
I ended up dating, excuse me, “courting” a boy from another church; you know, the one I mentioned I was baptized at? Yes, his church and mine were very much alike except for that at his church it was considered a sin to buy anything on Sunday. Doug Wilson was highly praised by both places of worship, and a male superiority complex abounded. The older women taught the younger women what was modest and what was not, and envy and disdain were more evident than wisdom and love. I couldn’t wait to go to college so I could leave that church.
During my first year of college, my family left the fundamentalist, ultra conservative church for the waves of freedom that can be found in mega churches. Lights, camera, action! A coffee shop in the lobby??? What was this place and how come I had never been here before??
I taught Sunday school with a dear woman at the mega church, and enjoyed every moment working alongside her. Although, I could rarely be found in the actual service, I do remember being surprised that indeed, the entire service would be over in under an hour and half, quite unlike the all morning, all afternoon experience I had endured in high school. But one day, my family became disenfranchised with the mega church. The pastor was doing a series on tithing and promised to give any member of the congregation their tithe money back if they weren’t blessed by God for giving their first fruits. Although the coffee shop was nice, this theology was not, and we were off again!
Are you still with me? We’re nearing the final season of Protestant Suburbia. The final season opens in what is considered an emerging church. Stayed tuned until next time…