When I first attended Worldwide Church of God services, it was in a rinky-dink basement (rented from the Masons) with no windows that held about 100 people in close quarters. It was so small that the drinking fountain, anointing room (closet) and restrooms were all right off from where the seats were. The only door out of there was the one that led up the steps to the outdoors. If you got up during services (which no one usually did) everyone could see where you were going. We actually weren’t allowed to even get a drink while the minister was giving the sermon–and I remember it was warm in there. If you or your kids forgot to do it before the service started, you were “out of luck.”
I remember quite a number of the members didn’t look so well off financially (one kid even had holes on the bottom of his shoes). This somehow didn’t jive with Herbert Armstrong’s booklets which told us we would have the “abundant life” and “prosper” if we were faithful with our tithes and offerings. But I excused it away by telling myself that we were supposed to “give up our worldly possessions for God’s Work.”
There was no nursery or classrooms for the children. We noticed, instead, that everyone had their young children sleeping on a pad on the floor. We weren’t sure we wanted our young son down there, so we just left him in the chair. After awhile he started making a small noise with one of his cars, as he ran it over the back of the chair in front of him. Immediately a deacon came and leaned over to us and asked us if we wanted to take him “out.” We weren’t quite sure where “out” was, so we put him in our lap and he soon quieted down.
One man was not so fortunate, however. He was fairly new, but not yet successful enough in getting his kid trained to sleep on the pad on the floor. The man made several trips to the restroom with his boy to administer a spanking with a ruler (he carried the ruler under his arm as he paraded in front of all of us). Each time you could hear everything. Several of us were quite distracted by this display and as we looked toward the restroom where the noise was coming from, the minister finally said, “Don’t pay any attention to what is going on in the restroom!” Reminds me now of the Wizard of Oz movie.
Everyone maintained smiles on their faces before and after services. (One man later told us that his face actually hurt the first Feast he ever attended because he had to smile so much.) It seemed like most of those 100 people made the rounds in that little room, shaking hands with everyone at least once. Since my husband and I weren’t used to so much close interaction with others, we decided to leave right after the services. As we headed toward the door (the one that led up the stairs to daylight), we were stopped by a husky deacon that stood at the door. With a big smile on his face he said, “Don’t leave. Stay around and fellowship.” We didn’t seem to have a choice, or maybe it was that we didn’t have the courage to move pass him and get out of there. We turned around and tried to mill in with the group. I started going around, shaking hands, and then moving on to the next person. One woman that seemed very bold said, “Don’t leave. Stay here and be sociable.” Some of the people’s actions and attitudes seemed uncomfortable to me as they tried to force their way into my emotions and life.
I can’t say we really loved our first service. It wasn’t at all as Herbert Armstrong’s Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course had painted it, except maybe for the smiles. I remember it as sort of a dark, confusing time. Nothing of the Spirit of God or true, unconditional, Christian love. I wonder how many other former members can look back and pick up clues about their first service. Clues that told them to get out of there.
By T. H.
Exit & Support Network™