Leaving the church was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have no qualms about letting go of God and religion. But the people–I loved them and I still do.
I am aware of the flaws, dysfunction, and outright abuse that happened in many churches, and I understand that those who were harmed must speak up. But I think I was protected from a lot of that because my father was the pastor and he was protective of his churches.
When I was thirteen, I talked him into giving me a key to the church building and I would be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. I didn’t want to miss a minute. The church was pretty wonderful to me as I was growing up. While I was a clumsy, lonely kid in school, the church treated me like I was special. I had friends of all ages who were glad to see me. They hugged me, helped me, and applauded me.
When I was very little, I sat with Mrs. Luker during the worship service. She gave me gum just for coming to be with her. We used to race each other to see who could find the songs in the hymnal first. I remember cracking the code of counting… you know when you reach number 9 and move over to the next column and start over…? I was unstoppable when I picked up on that secret and then I beat her every time.
When I was five years old, our Sunday school teacher had us stand up and speak into the microphone at the podium. It was a clunky, old-fashioned instrument. I liked how it felt in my hand as I adjusted it back and forth. When I spoke into it, my voice boomed throughout the auditorium, sounding just like my dad. Years later, the teacher told me that she had to literally pull me from that microphone.
I learned about music in church. We didn’t use pianos and organs but we were all encouraged to sing. I remember when I first recognized the different harmonies going on in our congregation. I would lean my head back and pick out the different parts. I heard my mom’s alto underneath the melody, and I especially enjoyed hearing the men sing bass.
When I got a little older, I learned to perform by joining the puppet ministry. I was this soft-spoken kid who became an outrageous ham when I hid behind the curtain and spoke with a puppet.
To sum up, I found music and my voice in church because I counted.
I’m sorry I couldn’t stay.