I attended Worldwide Church of God from age 4 to 19, beginning in 1968 and ending in 1983. My uncle brought the WCG to my parent’s attention. I still recall how terrified I was to attend that first service. My family had dinner with a deacon’s family the night before and I was lectured on the way to church that I was to behave like that family’s children, to sit still, and that children were to “be seen and not heard.”
Discipline was very strict and any misbehavior was met with corporal punishment using a hand, a Ping-Pong paddle, a belt across the behind, or a backhand across the mouth for being too outspoken.
During my pre-teen years my parents began fighting more often and were counseled by the ministers on numerous occasions. Twice my mother discussed divorce with an attorney, but backed off when told by the minister that she would be disfellowshipped. Meanwhile at home, my father accused my mother of being possessed by a demon. There were screaming fights and heavy silences, which resulted in a great deal of emotional neglect and abuse. But the outside looked like the ideal family.
I began playing special music when I was about 11 years old and performed for song services when I was about 12 or 13, something that would continue until I was 19. This made my parents, particularly my father, very proud. As long as I made him proud, I was special.
As a teen, I became very involved in Y.O.U. activities. Due to the “be not of the world” rule, this was my main social connection and I thought that I was being myself there.
I grew up never believing that I would live to be an adult, as I didn’t think the world would last past my 18th birthday. There didn’t seem to be any worth in my being anything but a smiling, pleasant, passive pianist.
I pretended so well that I was happy that I was nicknamed, “Smiley.” If I walked into services without a smile plastered on my face, it was considered unusual enough to cause comment. So I learned to smile all of the time to avoid comments.
When I entered my teens, a certain adult male member of the congregation would corner me when I was not with a group, crowd me, try to hug me, and eventually began putting his hands on me. Bringing this up to my mother did no good and bringing it to the attention of the associate minister only caused this predator to be more sly. He continued his behavior toward other young women in the congregation, including my younger sister. But he stopped touching her when she took the opportunity to scream, loudly, in the lobby for him to keep his blankity blank hands off her! After that, he stayed away from her.
Beginning in the fall of 1982, I suffered my first depressive episode. I didn’t know what it was, but I was so good at controlling what the outside world saw, that I smiled through it until I could bury it.
When I was about 17, I realized the hypocrisy of the rules I was living under and began to rebel in small ways. By early 1983, when I was 19, I decided that I was going to make my own decisions and began dating a non-church member. By July of that year I was relieved of my pianist duties and told to stay away from the Y.O.U. activities as I was a bad influence. That was all the prompting I needed to leave (after a rather comical verbal joust with the local minister).
This did not make my father proud and I ceased to be special. When I moved out of the house, my mother became even more angry and I soon realized that it was because I “abandoned” her. That anger lasted for years and our relationship is, while a bit easier these days, still not comfortable.
I soon learned that the entire support network that I thought was comprised of people who cared for me was a myth. Even those who really did care were not allowed to be around me for fear of getting in trouble themselves and most simply didn’t know what to say to me. I was on my own. I can only attribute my strength in getting through that sense of abandonment to a guardian angel of some kind. The anger of being so used, abused and discarded simply made me more determined to “make it” on my own. And I did.
Like most weeds, the roots of that “always smile” and “be separate” mentality thrived underground until it sprung forth as depression and panic attacks after marrying my first husband in 1987. I didn’t know what hit me and where it had come from.
From that time to this, I have spent many years in therapy learning how to change my thought processes and how to be happy. While I’ve had a few major episodes of depression and experience anxiety, I’ve managed to make my life into something far more fulfilling than I could ever have hoped. I’ve been able to manage the depression but fought for years to learn where the sense of impending doom came from. I know that some of the sexual abuse from WCG and subsequent situations played into it, but that never seemed to answer the question.
And then I found your site. After several weeks of reading this site and others, and absorbing the vastness of the damage done to me as an innocent little child, I finally understand. I think that the main portion of that sense of impending doom was a result of growing up in WCG with parents who subscribed an outwardly fanatical adherence to HWA teachings and living with the idea that the world would end. The irony is that I’ve lived with that legacy for almost 30 years past when I thought the world would end. I now have a target to work on and with that I know that I will be able to move forward and heal.
Thank you for allowing all of us to share our thoughts. It is so helpful to know that there are others out there who have experienced the same things (I am not crazy and never was) and have moved on to have meaningful, productive and happy lives (I can do it too!).
By Amy – Child survivor of WCG