My parents decided that I was going to attend SEP camp in Orr, Minnesota. I clearly remember it being something that my parents were so excited about.
SEP camp to me was a combination of being in Army boot camp and the Feast of Tabernacles combined into one. We were forced to get up early and make our bunk beds up in a certain manner according to the way we were taught by our camp counselor. While we were at other activities, someone would come in and inspect our beds and would strip them if a quarter didn’t bounce off it. Later in the week, the boy dorm and girl dorm that was deemed the cleanest and neatest got an award of the biggest doughnuts I have ever seen in my life. I remember when we got the chance to ride to the small town of Orr once to buy souvenirs that our counselor told us how disappointed she was when a lot of us bought junk food. I found it odd though that you were rewarded with huge doughnuts that were filled with sugar and fat for having a clean dorm, but we were condemned for buying junk food that one time. Did they not see the irony in that? I remember that my dorm ended up winning the doughnuts more than any other dorm did and we were told that when Mr. Armstrong arrived, we would have the pleasure of him visiting our dorm personally, since we were such good cleaners and had won the award more than the other girl dorms. This never happened and we were told that he was very busy and had to catch a plane to somewhere important. We were so upset at the time but were made to feel that we shouldn’t be upset about it and so felt guilty.
Herbert Armstrong arrived one Saturday and all of the campers lined up on the long dirt road that lead up to the dining hall and we all dutifully waved at him as he rode past us in his expensive black car, which was in stark contrast to what most families drove. It felt like, at the time, that we were welcoming a rock star or movie star and everyone was so excited. We were forced to wear our normal “Sabbath” clothes to church during camp, although the girls were forced to walk on muddy hills and roads while wearing uncomfortable high heels and nylons. Each dorm was assigned certain days to set up chairs and take them down. It reminded me so much at the time of a kids’ military camp.
We sang military type chants/songs like we were soldiers on our way to the dining hall, or on our way to the never ending activities they had scheduled for us each and every day. There was constant activity and many of us were so physically and mentally exhausted. We would have Bible study classes in our dorms that focused on Herbert Armstrong’s booklets about dating, prophecy, and other things that he found important at the time.
There was never any free time and we were up from early morning to often around midnight or later. I didn’t know how to swim and was forced to jump in the lake (which was freezing cold) and timed, as I tried to stay above water and not drown. I received some little paper card that stated I had passed (I guess because I didn’t drown) but wondered why I was forced to do something so scary especially when I told the swimming counselor that I didn’t know how to swim. I had never water-skied before and it was equally scary. I felt like I had let down all the counselors there when I failed to stand up. I didn’t receive a card for that activity and felt like a huge failure. I once again felt the incredible pressure to please, but had failed again no matter how hard I tried.
After the few weeks that I was there, it was time to go home and so I wearily climbed onto the “church bus” that hundreds of us had ridden on that had left from Tennessee only a few weeks earlier. We all were so exhausted that we ended up passing out and sleeping from Minnesota until the bus broke down in Kentucky. My minister had to drive from his home, several states away, to pick me up (others had their ministers or members or parents pick them up) and I ended up staying with him and his family that entire week. I remember we stopped at a store to get some snacks and I bought a Cosmopolitan or Glamour magazine and the minister found it in the back of his car (it must have fallen out of my suitcase) and asked me and the other two teenagers who were riding with him, “Who bought this Playboy magazine?” I was a girl and was humiliated because it was just a magazine about fashion/beauty but now I was being accused of buying a magazine with nude women that was meant for men to look at? I guess he thought it was one of the male teenagers that had bought it, but it was me and I instantly felt worldly and vain for buying a magazine about beauty and fashion. He looked at me with contempt when I admitted it was mine and then threw it away in disgust.
I slept almost non-stop from the moment he picked me up. When we finally arrived at his home, I asked where I was to sleep and promptly fell in bed and stayed there the entire week I stayed with them until Saturday arrived for me to go to services with them and finally see my parents and go home. I slept all day and all night except when the minister’s wife would wake me up to eat or to get a shower or go to the bathroom.
The minister never called a doctor but told my parents on Saturday that he was worried about me because all I did was sleep constantly. I struggled to stay awake during church services and promptly fell asleep in the car on my way home and slept day and night at home that weekend and most of the next week. My parents were worried about me, but never called a doctor either. I realize that the same thing would happen to me during the Feast of Tabernacles because it was non-stop activities with little sleep and tremendous boredom with the constant sermons/sermonettes and the constant activities that as a deacon’s daughter I was forced to attend.
I didn’t know I was in a cult back then and because it was all that I had known since early childhood, I thought that there was something wrong with my spiritual life because my father was always disappointed in me if I wanted to sleep in some mornings, instead of going to church services.
I know now that this is often what happens in cults and that I wasn’t crazy, or a heathen (as my father treated me), but that I was dealing with a cult tactic that made you so exhausted that you didn’t have time to think about how unhappy you were and you didn’t have time to think rationally and for yourself.