I didn’t have a large group of friends in high school. I didn’t even have a small group–the class of 2001 more or less just tolerated one another. The closest thing I had to a best friend, Liz, decided to publicly shame me our senior year. She announced to several classmates that I was atheist because I didn’t attend church. I didn’t attend church because of my beliefs or lack thereof, but rather because of the behavior I witnessed outside of church.
We have the First Baptist Church and we have the First United Methodist Church and many more in-between. EaglePoint came when I was already out of the picture.
I’ve been asked about my church attendance recreationally, professionally, and educationally. When it was someone who I knew attended FUMC, I’d state I went to FBC and vice versa. I was met with an approving smile and we would continue on our topic of conversation or whatnot. Telling someone that you don’t attend church or have different beliefs is not met well here.
I attended church and vacation bible school regularly as a child in nearby Saks, Alabama, with my mom’s family. More than ever I understand her frustration in trying to get three kids dressed and out the door. When you factor in school activities and work, Sundays can be the only day of the week a family has together. Eventually, we stopped going and life continued. We donated, we prayed, and we tried to live good lives.
I watched girls and boys—proud church going members, mind you—brag about staying out drunk Saturday night, experimenting with drugs, and stealing from stores. Yet, these boys and girls would put on their Sunday best every week and look down upon us “sinners.”
Down in Montgomery, Husband experienced something similar. But the difference between the Montgomery and Jacksonville situation is that social status in Jacksonville is based largely on church membership. Perhaps Sunday School classes hand out Erich Good’s “Social Class and Church Participation” study. You attend our church, so you must be okay and of decent social class—or something like that. Never mind that church member that was just arrested for beating up his wife, or that deacon who isn’t a stranger to women. I did not want to be a part of the drinking, drugs, and theft, so I stayed away from those crowds—and that meant avoiding them at church, too.
When I was 20, I started attending services regularly again and I was baptized shortly before my 21st birthday. I loved the church leadership and it broke my heart when one-by-one they all left. By the time I married, I was still a member of FBC, but no longer attended. There were two big things that happened to make me turn my back on FBC and both related to poor treatment of my loved ones by church staff. My written request to church leadership on the final matter went unanswered and I lost faith not in God, but the church.
I haven’t set foot in FBC again and I don’t know that I’ll ever want to. Not only did I have to watch kids bully other kids growing up—and it still happens a lot at JHS and Kitty Stone—but I witnessed adults bullying other adults. Now that my kids are growing up, I see the cycle continuing. I’ve watched teachers hug kids from church the first day of class while other students go ignored. I see the church cliques at the ballfield—those who pretend to be best friends, but would stab each other behind the back with a “bless his heart” at the first opportunity. I don’t want fake smiles. I’d rather have genuine friendship anyway.
Mom said she always regretted not getting us “into the churches” sooner. Despite my misgivings with the people inside those walls, I can see the social benefit for my own children. I’m making my case to Husband and so far he’s not up for it yet. When I ask the kids about going, they’re thrilled at the opportunity… and not because of the friends they’ll see and make, or the potential benefits in school and their first jobs, but because they get to learn about Jesus.
I hope they will always have that precious mindset and not become predator or prey to FBC/FUMC.
Bless your heart if you made it this far!