This is the second post in a series I’m writing about my time in various churches.
Age 0–12 :: Roman Catholic & Mainline Protestant (United Methodist)
I was born in the 1960s in Western New York. My mom was Catholic, and my dad was United Methodist. Interestingly, my mom’s mom…from an Irish background, had been raised Methodist but converted to Catholicism for her German husband, who was Catholic, not Lutheran. So, I was set for an interesting journey before I was even born. For my parents to get married in a Catholic Church, they had to agree their children would be raised Catholic, and so I was.
When I was a kid, most of my mom’s family didn’t attend church regularly. We would go to my grandparent’s Methodist church on the major holidays, Christmas Eve, Easter, etc. My dad’s whole family would be there, and a meal at my grandparents would generally be part of the day. My dad’s parents were very devoted to their church, although they always had items that they were less than happy with.
(As a teenager, I was looking through my grandparent’s church membership album and saw that I was considered a member. I had no idea.)
Most of the year, we were at a Catholic service (My mom, my brother and I. My dad generally didn’t go anywhere.). It was a 5-minute walk from our house, but we usually drove. The church was a big part of my life. I made my First Communion, First Confession and was also an altar boy. Sadly, I could never remember when I was supposed to ring the bells, but I was always on the schedule since I regularly showed up. My friend’s dad ran the funeral home in town, and so he and I would often get to serve at funerals, which meant leaving school and making a few bucks as well.
Church felt safe. It involved family and community. I felt like I was part of something.
As I’m thinking about it, it would be hard for me to say this was a benefit from the Catholic church, and this was a benefit from the Methodist church. Some are clearer than others, but looking back, here are a few things that stand out to me.
1). This is where I learned to believe in Jesus. I would be told in later stops along my journey that I was not a “Christian” at this point and “God saved me out to this.” Thankfully, later on, I revisited this part of my life and saw what a crucial and formative part of my journey it was.
2). I developed a strong sense of justice…although I would have used the words “fair and unfair” as a kid. I understood that God cared very much for the outsider…the poor…the powerless. That is something that had stayed with me.
3). I developed an appreciation for liturgy and ritual. I began to miss it in my 30s. First Communion felt like a key marker as a child to recognise that I was maturing in faith. The churches I was part of as an adult didn’t have a means of doing that.
4). Being an altar boy or helping my grandparents set up for Communion allowed me to, from an early age, see a bit of the “behind the scenes” and have opportunities to serve. My dad’s mom told me when I was young, she believed I would become a priest. I had no desire for that, but it seems she wasn’t too far off.
Those were probably the most significant things I recall. A couple of other random thoughts:
God was a huge part of my life as a kid, and I grew up with a sense of awe about him. He was really big. I remember lying in bed and thinking about heaven and the whole idea of eternity would make actually make me a bit anxious.
Our public school actually had Religious Education on Wednesday afternoons for Catholics and Protestants. I remember one of my classmates telling me that his religion was the real one and mine was “made up.” Although to be fair, that was the most negative comment I recall.
We had next-door neighbours who had come to New York from Italy. My mom would often drive them to church. Following one Saturday night service, he mentioned that he preferred to go on Saturdays to “Get it the hell over with.”
Why I left.
When I was 12, my uncle, who was also my Godfather, “found Jesus”. He had been an atheist and during the whole Jesus People movement came to faith. Part of my extended family followed him as he went on this new journey…part wanted nothing to do with him anymore. My mom was part of the first group. At first, we began attending the Newman Center near the local college. It was different, but we were still Catholic.
However, we began attending a new church plant in our area within a few months. That is when almost everything changed.
Next: Independent Pentecostal