At some point each summer I think back to past summers and there is hardly a thought about summer without thinking about camp. While most kids go to a summer camp, I attended church youth camp.
No it was fun. Really. Okay, parts of it was fun. Some parts not so much.
My first venture to church youth camp was in the summer of 1975. My dad had volunteered to work in camp a counselor and teacher during the week. My first youth camp was in a remote location called Pine Mountain near Columbus, Georgia. When we arrived, I was assigned to a cabin separate from my dad. When I walked into my cabin I was expecting other quiet and reserved kids like me but I witnessed another camper swinging from the rafters with his pants pulled down.
Yep, this was church camp.
The kid was being funny and in years that passed I learned this camper just was a crazy guy who wanted attention good or bad. It was a strange first experience for me. I had a girlfriend at that first camp – well sort of. The whole week she thought I was someone else even when I tried to set her straight. At the end of the week there was this thing called a banquet which was supposed to be this formal thing for the last night of camp. It was an unwritten rule that guys were supposed to have a date they could sit with at the banquet. This would be the first and only time I would ever have a date for this event.
Okay, I think you know I said this was a church camp. Let me further make things more interesting for you by telling you it was a Pentecostal church camp. That’s right. We were saving souls and speaking in tongues this week. Every night we had church. At this first camp church was held under a large outdoor structure with a tin roof. One funny memory I have is one night when the spirit was moving (that’s what we called it then) a group of boys were running around the building speaking in tongues. When me and another camper did the same thing, one of the boys in the other group stopped and looked at us and said “you are only doing this because we are doing it”. Then he continued with leading his group around the building and resumed speaking in tongues. After that first year of camp, I didn’t want to go back and I didn’t return the next summer. I didn’t think I would ever go back.
Then as the summer of 1978 approached, our church organization had built their own campground in a place that would be known as Camp Echeconnee near Roberta, Georgia. My dad was the pastor at a different church that had a larger youth group than past churches had. This influenced me to give youth camp another try. The first camp at the new campground was supposed to be the senior camp which was the age group ahead of me but a kitchen fire postponed their camp and my age group (juniors) were the first campers to attend. That first camp at the new campground changed it all for me as well as a counselor named Bubba Cardin. Bubba was a young state evangelist but was like no other I had known before. Bubba played the banjo and his rendition of Don Francisco’s “He’s Alive” was one I have never forgotten.
Camp turned out to be a positive experience for me that week even when several campers got chiggers from an impromptu hike in the woods.
I was never the popular one and was largely overshadowed by the cool kids at camp but I still made some good friends. I met a guy named Jay Thornton. Jay and I were both preachers kids and our lives had travelled similar paths. We also both liked basketball. With the NBA playoffs usually finishing up before camp, we would talk about the games and played many games of basketball ourselves at camp during free time. I think I even remember us imitating sports commentators while watching the staff-camper basketball game.
Basketball. Now back in the day, this was my game and I wanted to be good at it. I would practice weeks before camp hoping my skills would be impressive enough to get a spot on the staff-camper basketball game. The desire to play didn’t match my ability so it was an annual effort of frustration.
Remember me telling you that my first camp was my first and only time I would have a date for the banquet? It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Just as my basketball skills failed me, my attempts at dating were anything but smooth. Once I saw a girl I really liked and I wanted to meet her. I boldly went up to her and introduced myself. Pretty harmless right? To my horror, she laughed and turned away from me and walked away. Her and her friends pointed at me and laughed every time we would pass the rest of the week.
Fortunately for me and my fragile self-esteem, I had some great friends during this time. I had already told you about Jay. Jay has remained my friend over the years thanks to Facebook. Jay is now a pastor himself and probably the kindest person you could ever meet.
Gary Lewis was another person I would meet at camp and become friends with. Gary was also a preacher’s kid. We were often grouped into the same cabins at camp or next door. In those days at camp, each building housed four groups of about 10 kids plus their counselor. I was always one that got my shower done early and dressed for church each night. This caused me to be ready earlier than others. Gary found this comical once and made the comment “Look at Milton. He’s all dressed up with no place to go.” This has been our ongoing joke ever since then. (Yes Gary, I still get ready early with no place to go!). Gary went on to bigger and better things. The last I heard was that he was a Chaplain with Hospice. I can’t imagine those folks being in better care for their spiritual needs during those times.
There was no doubt that camp was about our spiritual needs and our relationship with God. Nobody ever forced God in us but there was some peer pressure to do so. The camp was structured.
Each day at camp would pretty much be the same schedule:
Girls swimming/boys recreation time
Boys swimming/girls recreation time
You might have noticed the swimming part of the schedule. Boys and girls were never allowed to swim together at the same time. This would be what they church called “mixed bathing” which was not allowed. So we had separate swim times.
In those old youth camp days, the common enemy we all had was the intense heat of the Georgia summers. The swim times was one of the things we could do to get relief. The only air conditioning was in the cafeteria. Anything happening at the cafeteria was a popular event. We also had something called the Snack Shack which was a place we could get refreshments. At the beginning of the week we would purchase a snack shack card. I would always stress out about it and try to budget myself to make my card last as long as I could.
I hate to admit it but the least favorite part of camp were the classes. Those were hours of my life that I thought would never end. To be fair, most teachers did a great job but when your life already revolves around church, you weren’t thrilled about more church. I will say that the elective classes were a bit more interesting such as the CPR class which was the first time I learned how to perform CPR.
When I got older and no longer a camper, I volunteered to work in camp. My pastor convinced me to join him to work in the kitchen during camp. That’s probably the hardest I ever worked in camp. Other times I volunteered to be a counselor. Counselor sounds like a nice job but it was more like a weeklong chappone/babysitter. It is a week where you shouldn’t expect to get much sleep. Boys can stay up for a long time and explore many ways to get a laugh including various forms of bodily sounds. A counselor has to keep one eye open or else you will find yourself being pranked. I was lucky that my bunk never ended up in the shower or short sheeted. (Yes, this was church camp) In spite of all the shenanigans, I always did my best to make my boys feel special. During one camp our theme was the Olympics and I had a vendor create replica gold medals that I gave to my boys at the end of the week. They thought that was so cool. Being a counselor was a lot of work but I always felt like it was a rewarding experience after it was over. I can only hope that somehow I was able to be a positive impact on the boys in my cabin.
Yes, it was a church camp and a Pentecostal so there were some strange quirks for a summer camp. I wouldn’t say there are a lot of fond memories but I survived.
This week I received my Dad’s Bible. My cousin sent it to me while she was going through things he left behind in his house after he passed away in November. I have been looking through his old, worn Bible repeatedly since I received it. This two-pound, King James Version Thompson Chain Reference Bible was purchased in Savannah, Georgia in 1982. This is a major league Bible of Bibles. He preached many sermons from it. There are still some old sermon outlines and notes in it. Looking through his Bible, sermon notes and outlines are proof that my dad was very dedicated to his calling. I have heard stories about how he was called into the ministry and you will need to have some knowledge about the Pentecostal way of how things work.
My mother was the daughter of a preacher. She did NOT want to marry a preacher. Funny how things work out because she is the reason that dad was called into the ministry. My dad felt the calling but wanted confirmation from God about it. He didn’t get a burning bush but he certainly got the confirmation he was looking for. His prayer was that if God wanted him to preach that God would use my mother to confirm it because he knew how much she was against it. The story was relayed to me that one night in church the Holy Ghost worked in my mother and in the strange way this method operated, she was used to speak to dad that he was called to preach. Now, I don’t know about all of this nor could I ever expect to explain this to you but I do know that this set the course of our lives from that night.
So, as I look through my dad’s Bible I think about that course we took in his calling. Although my mother was used in the ritual described above to call dad into the ministry she was never happy about being a preacher’s wife. I often lament about my life as a preacher’s kid but I can tell you that next to the preacher, the preacher’s wife really has to put up with a whole lot of crap that most wives wouldn’t dream of. People are mean and it’s even more disenchanting when the mean people are the self-righteous ones in the church.
Still, my dad pressed on with his calling. I think if dad had been a minister in any other organization that things would have been much different. Unfortunately, we were sucked into a very peculiar (and they loved being called peculiar) Pentecostal denomination called the Church of God of Prophecy. Yeah, people usually respond with: “Church of God of what??” Back in those days this church was a cult. I always say that you don’t know something is a cult when you are in it but looking back it was definitely the definition of a cult. I have talked enough about this in past posts so I won’t repeat it here.
My dad was strict. He was a strict father and preacher. Sometimes the lines were blurred. I experienced the preacher more than the father. If I’m being honest about this Bible, I have to admit that I’m torn. It is both sentimental and troubling. I’m sorry but I’m just being honest. My dad was a minister for over 40 years until being forced out by a weak church leader who didn’t want to stand up for what was right. Ironically this same leader is the leader for the entire organization. So don’t hate on me for not going back to that church. You haven’t walked in my shoes or lived my life.
In spite of the weirdness of the church, my dad tried to preach the truth – or at least the truth that the church organization told him that it was. There was resistance in many places. I could curl your hair with stories about the inter-workings of the church. I think my dad was sincere in standing up for the truth. He tried his best. I can’t fault him for that I just think he could have done a better job to avoid the church propaganda and refused to drink the koolaide. (Yes, I went there!) Unfortunately, he was in an organization that made perfection the same as Godliness. I have to give my dad credit for not following reputation or money in the ministry as so many do these days. He stuck to what he believed whether I agreed or not.
When he was laboring as a minister in Georgia churches while I was growing up, he was never appointed to a “big” church because he didn’t suck up to the leadership. In those days, a “big” church was those churches who might have 50 or more members. We were never at any of those churches. In fact, some churches barely had enough to keep the church doors open. I remember when we were at a church called Oak Hill which was near Temple, Georgia, that many times the only ones at church was just the three of us. My dad would still have a short service with the three of us. He wouldn’t preach but he would have a short devotion and prayer, then we would go back home.
The worst experience of his ministry when I was living at home was when we were moved to a church in Axson, Georgia. Those church folks were resistant to him from the very beginning. It was a family-run church and we weren’t family. They picked dad’s sermons apart, criticized what my mom wore, did or said and the kids picked on me mercilessly. Yeah, you don’t think of this happening in church do you? The members even tape recorded his sermons and sent it to the leadership critical of what he was preaching. They didn’t like it. There was even one night when a group of men tried to run us off the road. Scary. My dad had enough after that and resigned. In that church organization, you were tainted if you resigned a church. In those days we lived in a mobile home and we moved it to Waycross, Georgia where my dad used his G.I. Bill to go back to school and certification to be a TV repairman. Just as he was ready to work a normal job, church leadership called him and asked if he would take a church in Villa Rica, Georgia which the pastor had vacated to accept a leadership role in Nebraska. He prayed about it and decided to take the church. We stayed at that church three years which was the longest stay at any church.
The only time I ever resisted moving was when dad was considering a move from Villa Rica after my sophomore year in high school. I so much wanted to finish my high school there but my dad was intent on following “God’s will” and move us to Savannah. In my mind I thought it was due to the decline in attendance so on a night when our state bishop was to visit our local church I devised a plan to have all of my friends come to church that night. I had lofty expectations that this plan would convince my dad and the state bishop to keep us at the Villa Rica church. I stood on the front porch when the church doors opened looking for my friends to pull up and boost our attendance and change the course of what was inevitable. In the end only one of my friends showed up. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had all showed up because it seemed that God had wanted us to move to Savannah.
After I left home for the Air Force and start my own life, my dad continued to serve at a few more churches in Georgia until he decided to try another state. My parents moved to North Carolina with hopes of better opportunities. Unfortunately the grass wasn’t any greener on the other side of the state line. They were met more religious rebels, hypocrites and spineless church leaders. During this time my grandfather passed away. His passing changed my mother drastically after that. She never recovered from his death and caved under the criticism with being a preacher’s wife. In the final years of ministry, my dad had to deal with churches who were a bit too loose with the church finances. My dad told me a few stories on his death bed including where one of those churches wanted to give a local business a blank check. When my dad opposed this suggestion, they rebelled and called state leaders to deal with him. Yeah, it’s hard to believe these are “Christian” people we are talking about. When church leaders failed to back him up, my dad had enough. That was the last straw. He had to find a normal job so that he and my mother could live. So, my dad resigned, gave up his license and left the church. If resigning wasn’t bad enough it is scandalous when a preacher “leaves the church” which most people compare to leaving God which is ridiculous.
My dad worked at Belk in the credit department in Charlotte, North Carolina for several years so he could get some health benefits and a retirement. By the way, the church had NO retirement – well they did have a retirement system until a church leader in the worldwide headquarters embezzled the money. (Do you see a trend here? And what does the Bible say about the love of money?)
To my knowledge my parents never attended church again. My mother did not want dad to be sucked back into the ministry again when they moved back to Georgia to live near my grandmother and her sister. She was very adamant that she did NOT want him to even go to church again but when my mother passed away my dad eventually felt the pull back and during his last year he was reinstated and was even appointed as pastor to a church. I nearly fell out of my seat when I heard about it. I wondered why he would do this after all the hurt and pain it has caused them over the years. For some reason, he felt compelled to return to his calling. When I hear the Steven Curtis Chapman song, “For The Sake Of The Call” I think that’s how my dad felt about it. I may not have agreed with it but that was how he lived.
So all these memories come back to me as I look through my dad’s Bible. I look through this Bible and wonder why he highlighted things that he marked in his Bible. I also read the notes he has taped to his Bible and the sayings he kept in it. Also, as I look through his Bible I wonder if he prayed for me like he did over the handwritten list of church members in his Bible. When he read this Bible did he think of me? Did he wonder what burdens I was going through? Did he pray for my life in the same way?
It seems that the page that he highlighted and wrote in the most was in the Book of James. The first chapter of James usually refers to where the apostle encouraged believers patience when they were going through tough times. I’m thinking he probably needed to read this passage a lot. With all of the incredible crap he had to endure from church members and church leaders in his life, he truly had to have a strong faith in God. Maybe that’s why I have a strong faith in God because of what he went through. I may not know the man who owned this Bible but I am thankful to have a relationship with the God of his Bible. When my own father was absent, God was never absent in my life. God always sustained me and was consistent even during the times I was not as consistent in return. I have often prayed the prayer: “God, please never give up on me as long as I never give up on you”. I have only made it this far because of my Heavenly Father.
In the last week of his life, my dad apologized for what he put us through because of his calling. I reassured him that I understood things a lot better now than I did then. In the end he became the dad I always wanted instead of the preacher.
With his Bible, I have a part of him but it is a part I never experienced from him. I can’t say for sure that I will keep this Bible or not. I have had to make my own way through this journey of my life. If he is in paradise right now I’m pretty sure he sees things a whole lot differently now. I love my dad and glad I was there in the end when he needed me the most.
In the back of his Bible, Dad wrote this statement: “Success is not measured by heights attained, but by obstacles overcome.”
When I was growing up as the son of a preacher man, the first Sunday of August marked the beginning of a new church year in our denomination. Over the course of 18 years at home, seven of those first Sundays in August were the first Sunday in a new church. Let me tell you that those first Sundays in a new church were scary. I never liked them. The preacher’s family is always in a fish bowl but never as much as that first Sunday when everyone is checking out the new preacher and his family. It was never a fun experience for me and perhaps one reason I am quite reserved in the beginning when I meet new people or I am in a new situation.
Kids are cruel and I have experienced that first hand in the church and before any first day in a new school. In many of these first Sundays I heard their unfiltered comments. “He’s ugly” or “He looks nerdy” were the ones that pierced my feelings the most. Yes, it was a cruel initiation at a new church. Unfortunately, if the parents didn’t like my dad being the pastor, the kids took it out on me. I was just part of the collateral damage to their dislike for him. It wasn’t always like this but I would say it happened more than not.
My dad pastored churches in Georgia. The worst memory of all was a small community in South Georgia named Axson. It wasn’t even a city but it has lasting injuries on my memories. My dad replaced a long-time pastor who was related to many of the members so that first Sunday was filled with people checking us out. This little community church had a lot of folks who were involved in tobacco farming which was a bit interesting since our church taught that smoking was a sin. Not sure how they worked all that out in their salvation but they were a tough bunch. The first Sunday I heard the kids’ cruel comments and their snickers as I would pass by. No one wanted to befriend me or even attempt to talk to me. I was an outsider and they were intent on keeping it that way. They made my life hell especially on the school bus where they would sit in the back of the bus and flip me off. I would have complained to the bus driver – and he did witness it – but he was related to them too. Yeah, some things you can’t forget – even 40 years or so later. Our time at this church didn’t last long as it became just too much to overcome the adversity.
So the first Sundays at a new church weren’t always a great experience and unfortunately the bad experiences burn into our memory more than the good ones but there were some good experiences. I remember two. The first Sundays in Villa Rica and Savannah were the best ones I have memories of. Both churches had teens that actually talked to me the first Sunday and included me as a part of their group. When I say teens I’m not talking about a huge megachurch. Back in those days and in the church I was a part of, a “big” church would be a congregation of 50 or more. Most were not. After the Axson experience, the young people at Villa Rica was the next “first Sunday” at a new church and was a total opposite of the bad I had gone through in that nasty little family church. (No love lost there) The young people at Villa Rica made me feel at home from the first Sunday. I still remember the Smiths and the Horsleys and how they were some of the coolest people I ever met. The first Sunday in Savannah was also very welcoming as well. I also loved the city. It was my last “first Sunday” I was experience at a new church.
The other churches were Valdosta, Moultrie, Temple and Homeland. You’d probably need to Google it to find Temple and Homeland. I was too young to really remember the first churches in Valdosta and Moultrie.
I have to tell the story about Temple. The church was actually called “Oak Hill” and was probably the smallest church my dad ever pastored. It was on a hill somewhere near Temple, Georgia but there wasn’t a tree on the entire property and most definitely absent of any oak trees. I don’t think I ever heard why it was ever called “Oak Hill”. My dad was appointed to this church after leaving a one-year stay in Moultrie, Georgia. We left a church that had a parsonage (a house for the pastor and family) to Oak Hill which did not have a residence for the pastor. My parents were unable to find a place to live in the short time to relocate there. With time running out, we decided to temporarily move into the Sunday School rooms in back of the church. It wasn’t a huge issue since the church was so small that they were using the Sunday School rooms anyway. The issue for us was that the church did not have “modern” bathrooms. The only facilities were two outhouses on the property. Yep, outhouses – like Little House on the Prairie days. We used them too and at my age I saw it as an adventure but my parents weren’t so enthused about it. We each took baths in my small kiddie swimming pool. I can’t remember exactly how we did that but it was quite an interesting temporary situation. Eventually we were blessed with an opportunity to buy a mobile home and set it up on the property. If memory serves me correctly, our pioneer days experience lasted for about three months.
As far as my first Sunday at Oak Hill….there’s not much to say about it since the church had no kids or teens at all. I was the youngest one there so there wasn’t any peer pressure to deal with. In the year at that church, my mother was my Sunday School teacher and there were some Sundays that we were the only ones my dad had in attendance for his sermon. Yes, it was small.
Those seven first Sundays formed me. Not just that one day but in the other Sundays that followed. It wasn’t a charmed life. Learning the new people. Knowing who you could trust and who were a bad influence. It probably had a lot to do with my introverted ways. I wouldn’t always open up too much too soon until I got to know people. Many times people would comment about how quiet I was. I was quiet but I learned to observe people first and I still do that even today.
These first Sundays in August prepared me for the other firsts such as the first days on a new job. In reflection those church Sundays might have prepared me for dealing with the new situations as an adult. I have learned that the person who tells you office gossip on the first day is always the person who is the problem in the office. Don’t worry, I’m not going to name those people here. I can tell you I learned that perception in the first Sundays in church and it has been true every time. I can also tell you that nobody in your new place cares about what successes you have had in other places, you always have to proof yourself with the new people.
Today is the first Sunday of August but I’m glad that I’m not in a new church this morning.
A cult is defined as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or unorthodox.”
I spent most of my life with such a group. Although some would disagree me, I can tell you that the church I knew was indeed in every sense a cult. When you’re a part of cult you don’t know you’re in one. My experience with church involved a group called the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP). What I am going to tell you is my own personal experience with COGOP. I am not speaking for everyone only my first-hand knowledge and life in the church.
When you’re a part of cult you don’t know you’re in one.
If you are not familiar with the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP), it is a Pentecostal denomination spinoff of the Church of God which occurred in 1923 when there were some issues with leadership and finances. You can Google COGOP for more historical information but I will tell you from an early age, I was taught that COGOP was “the” one true church. We were the “bride of Christ” and exclusive. In fact, this was regarded as fact because the church even had their own flag. The flag was a symbol which meant we were chosen. We even said pledges to the flag. (Sound like a cult yet?) When I would ask about people in other church denominations, I was always told that those people had not “seen the light yet” and “their eyes have not been opened to the truth.” Of course, we were the only ones that had the truth.
The church had some strict teachings. It was a list of more don’ts than dos. In fact if anyone violated any of these teachings, charges were brought against them and they would be “turned out” of the church. It’s funny when I tell these stories around some today who flatly deny this ever happened. I was there when a group of men in the church brought up these “charges” against members they witnessed had worn shorts in public or was seen smoking. After a first and second motion in a church conference, these members were removed from the church membership roll. Yeah, it happened. I was there and witnessed it first-hand.
ADVICE THAT REALLY WASN’T ADVICE
The church also had what they called “Advice To Members” but don’t let it fool, it was not viewed as “advice” but something every member was expected to comply with or could face charges.
Here’s what the “Advice to Members” entailed:
As a member, you count one and should attend every regular service as far as possible. Remember no one can fill your place, and the service will be that much hindered without your presence. Show love and fellowship to everyone without partiality. Don’t wait for others to greet you, but you greet them. Show special courtesy to strangers who may attend one of your services. As a rule, take part in the singing. Be ready for vocal prayer when called on or prompted by the Spirit. Be ready for testimony when such is in order. Stand by your pastor or appointed leader and assist him in every way you can. Always pray silently for the preacher while he delivers the message. Always live a consecrated life at home and abroad so no one can justly think or speak of you as a hypocrite. Guard your conversation. Be careful what you say about a brother, sister, or anyone else. Don’t be a critic and try to find something in others to criticize. Examine yourself occasionally and see if you are in the faith. Don’t yield to discouragement or despondency. Be cheerful and happy and try to make others the same. Spend as much time as you can in secret prayer. Give yourself all you can to intercessory prayer. Daily prayers and study of God’s Word are necessary and very important for the spiritual welfare of each child of God; therefore, everyone is urged faithfully to maintain, as far as is possible, family worship at home at least once a day. The Scripture gives strong precautionary principles regarding adornment to satisfy the pride of life. Paul uses the terms “modesty,” “shamefacedness,” and “sobriety” as the guiding principal for the New Testament Christian. Human nature is such that adornment can become a hindrance to one’s personal relationship with Christ. Furthermore,”…caution should be taken in the wearing of ornaments for the decoration lest we would offend the conscience of another brother or sister.” An overriding principal for such matters is found in: Romans 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. To be a stumbling block is to do something that may cause one to fall back into sin. Matthew 16:24-27 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Total commitment, even unto death, is necessary. Cross bearing is a willingness to suffer and die for the Lord’s sake just as he suffered and died for our sake. Cease making self the object of our life. 1 Timothy 2:1-10 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Live a good and holy life, with special emphasis on its source, which is a deep reverence for God. God desires the salvation of all people. The Bible also indicates that God chooses some (not all) to be saved. He chose those He knew would believe and follow Him. Christ gave Himself as a ransom. Through His death, He bridged the gap between God and man and made salvation available to all. 1 Peter 3:17-18 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: Jesus is an example of how we should live as a Christian. We are to be ready to suffer for doing good. 1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. This doesn’t mean the world of people or the created world, but rather the world, or realm, or sin which is controlled by Satan and organized against God and righteousness. You should not permit yourself to be trapped by worldly attractions. The Bible says, “Neither give place to the devil.” Dabbling with worldly amusements like professional ball games, horse races, stock car races, wrestling arenas, skating rinks, motion picture houses or drive-in theaters, bowling alleys, and going swimming where men and women both use the same bathing area would give the devil a foothold or place in your place. Always tithe your income and put it in the church treasury. Make freewill offerings other than your tithes. Younger members should not keep company or associate too intimately with worldly outsiders. Because of the ever-increasing number of broken homes, separations, divorces, and remarriages, the greatest care should be taken with much prayer and consideration regarding proposed matrimony. A member who may have a living companion should not marry another under any circumstances, even if divorced. Neither should a member marry anyone who has a living companion although such a person may be divorced. Children are a heritage from the Lord. Those who have children are responsible to teach them an early age to reverence the house of God. This should be done by setting a good example before them and by instruction them with such a good spirit that they will have a strong desire to serve the Lord. MINISTERS are to meet all the requirements in being examples to the members by keeping their children under reasonable control at all times and by restraining them from running about over the house of God, especially while the services are in progress. The White Wing Messenger is a very important part of the Church of God. It should be ready regularly by every member, and your interest in advertising the church should be so great that when you have finished reading your copy, you would pass it along to someone else. Every member who possible can, should subscribe, and each minister is asked to be a “paid-up” subscriber and an earnest worker for our church paper—the White Wing Messenger. These are the last days and perilous times have come, and it will require much watchfulness and humble prayer for you to so live and act that you will never bring reproach on the worthy name of Christ and His church that you so much love.
Never form too close an intimacy with the opposite sex even if they are brothers and sisters in the Lord. Give no place to the adversary. Abstain from the very appearance of evil. Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Though out the New Testament we are taught to have respect for authority and to exercise order and discipline in the Church. These kindly instructions and advice are given by those who are watching for your soul as they much give an account, and it is hoped they will be received with the same meek, gentle spirit in which they are given.
I never witnessed any charges brought against anyone for not taking part in the singing yet extreme weight was given to other areas in the list. The church in my day was very difficult to figure out. When I was dating, this list ruled out almost everything I could do on a date. I posed the question once about what I could take a girl on a date and do you know what the answer was? I was told “You can take her to church.” Yeah, try that for a pickup line and see how many dates you get.
Seriously, though the church took fun out of everything you could possibly do. For folks that went through a divorce, if they wanted to remain members, they would have to either remain unmarried or wait for their ex to die before they could date anyone else. There were a lot of divorced people praying for their exes to die – for Godly reasons of course!
PUT A RING ON IT
In the 1990s, the church went through a huge transition. Although it was masked under a cloak of top secrecy if you weren’t present to hear it, the church began allowing members to wear their wedding rings. You would not believe the fuss that went on about this. Many people said that the reason the church was relaxing its stance on wedding rings was because they were losing members. I don’t know if that was true or not but that was the talk going around. Now, I will admit to you that I had a difficult time with the ring issue. After years of being taught against wearing any kind of jewelry, I was dealing with this issue and decided I was going to wear my wedding ring. I met with my pastor at the time and informed him that I was going to wear my wedding ring. You would have thought I had done the most unthinkable thing possible. He looked at me and told me how disappointed he was in me with being raised in the church and was “floored” by my desire to wear my wedding ring. He also asked that I would wait a week before wearing them to church so he could prepare himself and the congregation. I learned later that he had a secret clandestine meeting with the other men of the church and asked them if I should continue in any leadership roles in the church. They apparently had no problems with it. The next Sunday I came in with my wedding ring and almost every eyeball was looking at my ring finger. I even got the ire of an anonymous caller who would leave hateful messages on my answering machine about it. Yes, this is the “true” church doing this. Amazing. The ring controversy finally settled down and others started wearing their rings.
The ring issue was a huge example I experienced of the double-standard in the church. People were lightning quick to criticize me of something yet they had their own vices. The church wasn’t doing a good job of reaching the lost because they were losing the found.
The ring controversy created a rift in COGOP and eventually a group called “The Concerned” split off to form their own group which many call THE Church of God (don’t forget THE in the title). There were also others that split off to form various groups as a result of the schism over the rings as well as the debate over divorce and remarriage.
Divorce and Remarriage was another big issue with the church as well. When I left they were considering changing their stance on it. They liked to quote the scripture on how God hates divorce but neglect the fact that God loves the divorced person. And if you want to know the “truth” just ask someone. Especially on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Each person will give you their own slant and their own scriptural reference to support what THEY think is the truth. They called it “rightly dividing the Word” but it always divided into the person giving the interpretation at the moment. The subject of Divorce and Remarriage was such a big deal that there was even an article about it in the New York Times:
Many COGOPs have tried to be more relevant to people and more “friendly” instead of the strict teachings they have been historically known for. Some have renamed their churches to more seeker-friendly titles such as “Harvest Fellowship” or “Liberty Fellowship” and so on. While they are still under the COGOP umbrella, they want to dispel the rigid disciplines of the past. At the time I left COGOP, it was more likely that you will find each church is autonomous of another. Some in rural communities are apt to keep the hard line of the past. It varies from church to church.
ALL HYPE AND NO SUBSTANCE
When I reflect back on my time in the church I can tell you that I never witnessed miracle. Never saw blinded eyes opened. Didn’t see people raised from the dead. Not one deaf person was healed. No one ever got up from their wheelchair and started walking. Nothing. I never saw it. I heard STORIES about these and I believed the stories I was told. I believed these things could happen so it wasn’t a lack of faith on my part and I certainly wasn’t a doubting Thomas. I was in all the way. I WANTED to see these things but in all of my 46 years I never saw it – not first-hand anyway. All the church seemed to be was a lot of hype with no substance. I heard a lot of loud preaching and people who would get my emotions worked up. I have seen people holler and run the church aisles in the spirit. Lots of emotionalism. Did the church fail me? Yes, I think you can see that it did. I still believe in healing and miracles but I don’t need any yelling preacher to get me hyped up about it.
As I told you last week, I really tried to believe everything the church was telling us but it just didn’t work. Not for me. It is really quite disenchanting when you had a “man of God” preaching love from the pulpit and telling racially insensitive jokes when not on God’s stage. That’s very disturbing to me and I am ashamed to have ever been involved in a church like that. Yes, I tried to believe it all and accept it but it didn’t work. I got to a breaking point from the expectations and hypocrisy to force me to discover my true relationship with God. It wasn’t about the “advice to members” or wearing rings, it was about relationship. Did you know that God doesn’t care about a person’s perfect church attendance record? Being a part of a strict church isn’t equal to being a Christian. I eventually have un-learned that the hard way.
I saw some good, a lot of bad and lots of ugly during my COGOP days. One of the ugliest moments I recall was when my father was appointed as a pastor at a church in deep South Georgia. They didn’t take too kindly to having a new pastor or anyone not related to someone in their church. One night we were in the car home from church a group of church members followed us out and attempted to run us off the road. I remember my mother telling me to lay down the back seat as they approached us and swerved close to us. It was a scary moment and one that will instill a sense of fear in your life. So, yes, I have reasons to be critical of the church I left and why I left it.
While there was a lot of bad experiences, there were a some good things about my life in the church. The best part was the friends I made through the years. Most of them are still with COGOP and I have no problems with that because they are good people and they are trying to be a positive influence in today’s version of COGOP. I keep in touch with a few of them. We all have our own crosses to bear and our own journeys to travel in life. This is mine. Next week I will tell you about how I sorted everything out and reveal the main reason that I left the church.
Growing up as a preacher’s kid, there was one time of the year that was exciting. While we rarely took vacations, the trip to Macon, Georgia for our church denomination’s state convention was the “vacation” for me – at least when I was younger.
Our church held a state convention every year in Macon. If you are not familiar with a “church” state convention, it was where all of the churches in our denomination in the state would come together for a few days in July. There was a lot of preaching, singing and various programs throughout the weekend. When I was younger, the preaching didn’t really interest me. The real treat was staying in a motel and eating out at restaurants.
My first memory of going to the State Convention was probably when I was six-years-old. We stayed downtown at the Dempsey Hotel which was within walking distance of the Macon City Auditorium. The Dempsey is now low income apartments but back then it was something special.
One of my favorite restaurants back then was Shoney’s. Eating out was a rare treat and Shoney’s was just over the top. It was also pretty awesome to get a Big Boy comic book.
Oh yes there was preaching at the convention but I don’t remember much of it back then. My dad was a trooper. I was amazed how he could actually sit and listen to them with the strictest of concentration. My mom – on the other hand – wasn’t one that sat through the sermons. She would take me with her to the stores downtown. The old Woolworth’s was one our favorite places. I still remember the creaking wooden floors and the musky smells from the store.
When we went to the convention with my grandparents, my Ma-Ma loved going to the S&S Cafeteria. I will always remember that about her and I still remember the crowds during lunch then and waiting in long lines.
The convention moved to the Macon Coliseum for a few years. The Coliseum was clearly much larger than the crowd we had. It was still fun to be there. The convention moved back when the auditorium was remodeled.
In later years, they would have the Youth program on Saturday Nights. The youth of the state would line up and march into the auditorium and sit in designated seats closest to the front for an evening of youth-oriented programs.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of the convention was at the very end when the State Overseer would announce the appointments of pastors and churches for the next church year. I think there was one year that my dad didn’t know where we were going until the overseer announced it. Most of the other times we knew but that would be top secret information. It would be humorous as the overseer would be going through the list of churches and hear everyone turn the page in their program at the same time.
Oh yes, there was preaching and I did appreciate many of the sermons in my later years of attending. I still remember some awesome sermons from one of the State Overseer’s several years ago. I actually bought a tape of his sermons and listened to them many years after that. I probably didn’t sit as attentively as my dad did but I learned to appreciate it more the older I got.
The convention was also a time to catch up with old friends and people we met over the years. We all grew up to have families of our own and move on in our lives.
Honestly, I can’t say I miss the convention anymore. Life has changed and I have changed. They still have the convention but it’s every two years now. The last one attended was nothing like I remembered it to be but those old memories are still there. Staying at the various hotels in Macon. Eating at the restaurants and enjoying our “vacation” at the state convention.
It’s summer time. When this time of year rolls around I think back to the summers when I attended week-long church summer camps in Georgia. We called it Youth Camp. I have a lot of memories and formed a lot of friendships from those years. It wasn’t your normal summer camp.
I am just right of the kid holding the sign (1975)
My first year to attend was in the summer of 1975. My Dad was working in the camp as a counselor for one of the cabins and he was also teaching a class. The first camp I attended was in Pine Mountain just outside of Columbus. It was quite a new experience for me as the only church I knew was our local congregation. There weren’t many people my age in our local church and then I attend a camp where it is an overload of kids my age. I didn’t my first church camp experience and didn’t return the next summer.
In the summer of 1977 our state headquarters started having camps at our own campground in a place called Camp Echeconnee located west of Macon. Due to a fire in the kitchen, the first week of camp was postponed and my camp ended up being the first camp held there. It wasn’t anything like it is today. In camp standards – we roughed it. ?During that week, someone thought it would be a good idea for us to go on a hike and when we returned several campers had chiggers. I’m itching again just thinking about that.
I continued attending camp until I left for the United States Air Force in 1982. When I returned to Georgia in 1985, I tried my effort at being a cabin counselor. I can tell you that was a whole different experience. It was a lot of work but it was also very rewarding too.
If you look back through photos or old camp annuals you probably will find little evidence prove that I attended since I wasn’t one of the popular ones at camp. The popular ones got the most of the attention of the photographers. I was always an introvert so it really didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to keep from looking stupid most of the time.
As you would think with a church camp, it was about church obviously. We had church services every night. During my days, we knew a lot about revivals and having church every night. That was nothing new. We were also a Pentecostal group so you know we had some wild times and there are some stories I could tell you. One thing I look back and laugh about was during that first camp, we had our church service under a picnic pavilion. A group of guys were “in the spirit” and running around the outside of the pavilion. When me and another kid decided to join them the guy in front stopped and looked at us and said, “You guys are only running around because we are.” He seemed to be put off that we were joining them. I laugh about that now.
Some other unique things about youth camp in those days were that they would not allow us to wear shorts or anything “worldly”. Girls were allowed to wear pants but encouraged to wear dresses to church services every night. We also had separate times for swimming at the camp swimming pool. Boys and Girls could not swim together. It was considered “mixed bathing” and a no-no in our church rules.
Yes, there was a lot of church but we had fun too. Aside from the chigger incident, we got to have lots of recreation time. Honestly, that was probably my favorite time. I loved playing basketball although I wasn’t any good at it. Another favorite was what they called “Killer Ball” (Yes, at a church camp no less) but it was just a variation of Dodgeball.
We had a schedule that included devotions, singing, Bible classes and other classes like learning how to do CPR. Church camp was the first place I learned how to do CPR. We also had fun time which would be anything fun for the campers like water gun fights, group games, field day type activities.
On the Friday night of camp it was a tradition to have a camp banquet where it was a non-spoken thing that guys would ask a girl to the banquet and sit together although any signs of affection were totally prohibited. I attended many, many camps where guys were just thinking they were all that and, of course, had their pick of who to ask. Me? Yeah, right. Mr. Introverted, All-Dressed-Up-And-No-Place-To-Go guy? Oh I tried but I crashed and burned in my attempts to secure a “date” to the banquet during the entirety of my camp career. Now I look back and see how overrated all that was. We were just going to the same cafeteria to sit together and eat a fancied up meal and see who were going to get various awards that the camp gave out.
Speaking of the meals…..let me tell you the meals were always good. I can’t remember ever complaining about the meals at camp. The cooks there were awesome.
Camp was probably one of the first places I learned about how to budget. In those days we bought a “snack shack” card which we used throughout the week for sodas, candy and other snacks. Workers would punch the card for what you would purchase. I had to manage my card so that I wouldn’t run out before the end of the week. Somehow I seemed to manage okay in those ancient days before debit/credit cards.
Let me say that most of the time, kids were WILD. I guess from all the Pentecostalism at home in their local churches they cut loose at camp. Forget about getting much sleep because there were all kinds of activities after lights out. You learned to sleep with one eye open. If not, your bunk would end up in the shower or shaving cream would mysteriously appear on your face.
A successful camp for camp directors would be how many kids got saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost. It was a good camp if everyone got some or all of those check marks. Counselors in the early days would brag about how many kids in their cabin were saved.
I have to say that I will never forget some of the amazing people that I got to know at church camp. Yes we had some of that strange Pentecostal thing going but aside from that craziness, there were some good people and experiences mixed in the madness. No, I never attempted to run about the building again and I never got the hang of speaking in tongues but I did get some good foundation in spite of those things. When you get older you just sort through all of that and find the good from it.
Camp is a lot different now. There are no rules against wearing shorts. There is air conditioning. The chapel has carpet and padded seats. The gym doesn’t double as the chapel now with metal chairs. I wonder how they handle the whole issue of social media and kids having their smart phones now. I am sure it is a challenge for workers now. It was always a unique experience to disconnect from the real world for a week.
Several of my camp friends have become pastors, teachers and careers in the church. I keep in touch with many of them through social media. We always think back to those days when the summer arrives each year.
Yes, we got a lot of God during that week but there is nothing wrong with that.