It was the summer of 1976 that we first attended “Vacation Bible School” at the local church. My sister and I, to the best of my knowledge, were baptized as Methodists, just like my mom and dad. I believe I was baptized in the village, and not at the small church in town where my grandmother played the organ. I have no idea why this is the case, other than maybe the fact that my grandmother’s brother-in-law was the minister in the church where she didn’t play the organ.
My sister is two years younger than me, almost to the day. Her kindergarten teacher was also the wife of a minister, at the “Church of Christ’ in town. The church is flanked by the cemetery on two sides; there’s a decently sized house to the east of the church where the minister and his wife lived. They adopted two children. Even though the whole church and school thing was kind of a taboo mingling back in the 1970s, somehow my sister’s kindergarten teacher convinced my mother that we should give that church a try. They weren’t Methodist, the church where my grandmother played the organ had closed, and my grandmother’s brother-in-law had retired from ministering. So, why not.
The church was kinda big on youth stuff. There’d be Vacation Bible School and then there’d be youth group and we were all promised our very own Bible once we were able to recite all the books of the Old and New Testament in order without hesitation.
The youth group segregated the boys from the girls in activities a lot of the time. It’d usually end up that four of us boys would participate in activities that involved sports, field trips, and worksheets where Jesus was depicted being pious in ditto purple. It was the summer of 1976 that the church took the four of us boys to Marineland, a fun filled family place in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The four of us piled into the backseat of the minister’s Mercury with burgundy Landau roof. He had an FM radio that displayed a “STEREO” indicator in amber when tuned to the beautiful music station out of Syracuse. The night before the trip to “Marineland”, the four of us, me, Billy, Milt, and one other boy that I think was named Mike, spent the night at the minister’s house so we could get an early start on the three hour trip the next morning. After washing my face and hands while the minister shaved and make sure I cleaned up, I went downstairs. They had a big grand piano that he let me play around with while he got the other boys ready for the trip.
I vividly remember praying a lot during the trip. We prayed before getting in the car. We prayed at lunch. We prayed for snack .We prayed at Carrols Restaurant on the way home. The minister’s wife was originally from Alaska and she was what I would call a “husky nice”. I also remember Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. One of the “killer whales” was named Shamu and I bought my Mom a souvenir which was a squirrel holding salt and pepper shakers. I also remember the drive and how the other boys were playing a game in the car where we closed our eyes and guessed the next kind of car passing us on the Thruway. Milt would always say it was “a rig”. I felt like a normal little boy at that moment, a feeling I never really felt all that much growing up.
We suddenly stopped going to that church and we didn’t go to any church for a long time. Turns out someone in the church told us we’d be burning with the Devil because we weren’t “dunked” when we were baptized. I never learned all the books of the Old and New Testament well enough to recite them. My Bible is from Kmart.
But I still remember the trip to Marineland with a smile. It would be when I was in eighth grade that my dad would declare I needed to be a member of the church choir. I obediently joined and enjoyed the experience where my grandmother’s brother-in-law was no longer a minister. I’ve always loved making music. Right before confirmation, the minister told me the Methodist church had no issues with the homosexual, just in case I wanted to know. I was a junior in high school at the time. Happy to hear this, I still lost my interest in organized religion.
While many have the best of intentions, the human spirit can not capture , comprehend, or relay the secrets of the Universe. It’s all a part of our experience.
It’s when we think of our time with “God”, and we subsequently smile, is when we know our true connection.