According to family lore, when I was just a newborn, my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother wanted me to be christened. However, my father interceded, saying that when and if I were baptized, it should be something that I knowingly would choose. His stance made sense to my mother, and I was not baptized as a baby.
As I grew up, I went to Sunday school at my neighbor ladies’ churches. Through song, I learned that Jesus loves me, that this little light of mine should always shine, and that the B-I-B-L-E is the book for me.
Each summer, my mother sent me to every single vacation Bible school (VBS) offered in our small town. Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Church of God, these week-long programs made my summers more enjoyable. (You know, I still hang some of those handcrafted VBS ornaments on my Christmas tree, decades later.)
As I got older, my parents told me that it was up to me to figure out “what I wanted to be,” spiritually, that is. So, with my childhood experiences as my guide, I began attending a variety of houses of worship with my friends.
Twice, I went to synagogue, but it was not a “good fit” for me. I guess my Sunday school and VBS days had effectively indoctrinated me as a Christian, so off to church, I went.
I had a blast belting out spirituals at a good old Southern revival. Those Baptists sure know how to sing and cook. With all those casseroles and sweets, I ate well that day! But despite the food and song, this was not the religion for me.
One evangelical church pulled out electric guitars and drums to accompany their songs of praise, but that was just a little too modern for my old-fashioned sensibilities.
Another evangelical congregation spread out the blessings and goodwill in the sanctuary, but as soon as they were in the parking lot, two of the holier-than-thou parishioners cursed at each other over a minor fender bender. No, that church was not for me either.
Some of my family members were Mennonite; however, even at a young age, I had feminist leanings, so being told that a girl/woman must be subservient to her father and (eventually) husband was not going to work for me.
The Pentecostals spoke in tongues, and as I already had two languages under my belt and was working on a third, I figured I already had my quota of languages. 🙂
Then, I went to the Catholic church. I enjoyed the service, so I went again and again. It seemed like this might be the denomination for me, so I enrolled in catechism classes. All was going well, until one day, I asked the priest: “Why do I have to go through you (via confession) to be forgiven?” A valid question, I believe. However, instead of engaging my inquisitive, young mind, the priest responded, “Because that’s just the way it is.” Naturally, as a teenager, I was not satisfied with this answer and asked for clarification on just WHY this is. Again, the priest gave me a non-answer, inferring that if I were a good Catholic, I would just accept that this is God’s will. Needless to say, this did not sit well with me, so I began looking for another church.
Because I appreciated much of the Catholic rituals and dogma, I wanted a church that had similar traditions. I found it with the Lutherans. They recited both the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds just like the Catholics (even though a couple of words were different). And their hymns were similar with a choir dressed in robes accompanied by a large pipe organ. However, the bread and wine only represented the Lord’s body and blood and wasn’t actually the blood and body of Christ. That’s fine by me, as I thought the Catholic perception to be slightly cannibalistic and vampirish. Also, with Lutheranism, I communed with God directly, not through an intermediary. Finally, the Lutherans seemed tolerant of my Catholic mannerisms when I genuflected after prayers and alternated between standing/kneeling/sitting throughout the services.
From that point on, I was active in the Lutheran church, playing on their girls’ basketball team and participating in teen programs. One of the more memorable programs was a sleepover at the church with the pastor and his wife serving as chaperones. Aside from movies and popcorn, Pastor Dave engaged us in theological discussion. He really wanted what to hear what we thought and why.
At some point during that discussion, the reverend discovered that I had never been baptized. Since I had been faithfully taking communion every Sunday, this was a problem, it seems. So, Pastor Dave asked if I wanted to be baptized. I thought about it, and after careful consideration, I said yes.
We decided that there was no time like the present, so the entire youth group filed into the sanctuary. Candles were lit throughout the chapel, and the overhead lights were turned off. The glow from the candlelight made the ceremony incandescent and the experience more illuminating. Afterward, I packed my baptismal candle and cloth in my duffel bag and called it a night. The next morning, I woke the same and yet somehow different.
Fast forward to my college years…I attended religious services with my roommate—a preacher’s kid—and several other friends. Although I went to the Catholic church near campus a couple of times, more often I would head to the student center for services offered by other denominations. One of the events I went to had people laying their hands on those who were ailing. My roommate mentioned to one of the women that I had an earache. This woman came over to me, placed her hand against my ear, and prayed over me. Although it did nothing for my pain, I was touched that a stranger was kind enough to say a prayer for me. (Incidentally, in case you were wondering, it was antibiotics from the student health center that ultimately cured my ear infection.)
After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I headed to graduate school. While there, I began expanding my horizons by taking a couple of comparative religions classes—Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Sikhism, and Taoism—and even audited a Native American religions class with one of my thesis committee professors. These classes sparked my lifelong quest to not only discover what makes us different but also to celebrate what makes us the same. I have found that, contrary to what some religious fanatics would have you believe, we are more alike than unalike.
As an adult, my spirituality continues to be an important aspect of my life. Although I no longer attend church on a regular basis (first, because I like having one day a week to sleep in and, second, because I do not believe that there is only one path to the Divine), I do volunteer each year with our community VBS. My hope is that I shall help sow the seeds of spirituality in young souls and witness their first steps on their own religious roads…wherever they may lead.