This is part three of a series I'm writing about my history with church, my history at church, and the story I'm still writing about my relationship with church.
We left Sixth Avenue Baptist Church and soon thereafter began to attend Calvary Church on West 57th Street in Manhattan. Forty five minutes from home by car, Calvary was tucked between a hotel and an expensive apartment building across four lanes of traffic and two lanes of parked cars from Carnegie Hall. I loved wandering around the streets of midtown between the 11am Sunday morning service and the 6pm evening service. We spent all day every Sunday at or near the church.
The long drive - or subway ride - home.
Truthfully, I loved spending my Sundays that way. Three of my four best church friends were sisters who lived in Greenwich Village. They didn't stay for the Sunday evening service, so my fourth friend, Emilia (I've changed her name), and I would walk them home (from West 57th Street down to West 4th St) and back between the services. A lot of walking. A lot of talking.
Emilia shared stories with me about her experience of life at Calvary. Her father was an elder at the church, and her mother was also deeply involved in leadership and ministry there. Emilia told stories that opened my eyes about what happened behind the closed doors of the church, behind the pulpit, behind the scenes at that respected and influential church. I spent most of our time together listening to her stories, pulse racing, mouth agape. How could that stuff happen at church? At CHURCH?
Soon after our arrival at Calvary, my parents joined Emilia's parents as prominent leaders in the church. Meetings. Retreats. Dinners. Teaching. More meetings. More retreats. People at our house. My parents at other people's houses. Phone calls. Late night arrivals after late night meetings.
Fear set in.
What if they disagree with the pastor again? What if we get kicked out again?
What if I have to abandon my good friends again?
What can I do to ensure that I don't have to go through that pain again?
I know: I'll be a good girl. I'll be the best girl I can be, the best girl the church has ever had. I won't lie or cheat or steal. I won't gossip or bully or tease anyone. I will obey my Sunday School teachers, speak respectfully to the pastors and elders, and I will do the same with my parents. I won't ask them for anything and I won't complain about anything either. I won't ask for prayer at prayer meetings; we didn't need prayer. We prayed for other people.
If I'm a good girl, a good student, a good person, then nothing will go wrong.
The only thing that went wrong was that I became addicted to being good, to being complimented, and to having to find new ways to impress people with how good I was and how good I could be.
I was afraid all the time that the truth would come out. That I would be discovered to be a fraud, a liar, and once again, we would get kicked out of the church. I would embarrass my parents and myself. Somehow I managed to forget that what had happened at Sixth Avenue Baptist wasn't my fault. I had nothing to do with the decision to leave that church, and my pleas that we be allowed to stay went unheeded. Nonetheless, I thought that this time, if I was good enough, then everything would be okay.
Fear set in.
There was the persistent fear of telling the truth about what I thought, felt and needed,
fear of asking questions,
fear of challenging people in authority over me,
not only people who truly had earned that authority,
but also people to whom I abdicated authority over me -
these fears and so many others consumed my every thought.
Not only in my church life and my spiritual life,
in my education, in my family relationships,
but also in my thoughts about money, friendship, and love,
I believed that there was never enough of anything,
and that everything could be taken away unexpectedly and without explanation.
Fear most definitely became a factor.
So I determined to live the life of a good girl, a good teenager,
a good young adult, a good wife, a good mother,
a good teacher, a good church member, a good volunteer.
I was terrified all the time, but I was so very good.