I grew up in the Presbyterian church here in the US, The biggest Presbyterian church in the US in the 50s, 60s, and 70’s, Hollywood First Presbyterian Church. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Presbyterian_Church_of_Hollywood, known to us as Hollywood Pres. I left in my early 20s for many reasons. I came out of the closet in 1979 and even though every minister at the time had a gay kid they were majorly homophobic especially to lesbians. I also had been finding that other than music there was very little that worked for me and never really had worked. My parents made the mistake of sending me to camp/Forest Home and sending me to spend summers with my grandmother. If it hadn’t been for choir I never would have lasted as long as I did.
Because there were a lot of Scots still in the congregation it was not a liberal church. We had a rather forbidding bunch of Elders of which my father was one. No alcohol, so if you wanted a wedding with anything in the punch you couldn’t have it at church. No smoking, I never remember seeing anyone smoke, ever, at church. You just didn’t do it. And since as an EK and CK ( Elder’s kid and Choir Kid) I went everywhere whether I was supposed to or not we would have seen it.
We found out the hard way about no dancing, Highland dancing was allowed but no boy – girl dancing. The year I was in 7th grade the Junior Hi minister planned a Halloween party for us. It was in the church gym that had been the first sanctuary and was rather spooky and gothic anyway and they made the basement showers into a haunted house. We had a grand time doing games and the older Elders invaded like the wrath of God in black suits and had a conniption fit and sent everyone home. Thank heaven my dad wasn’t part of that but my poor friend Dee ended up in tears when all of them landed on her to scold because she was dressed as a “Tool of Satan”. She was dressed as a die and I think her mom made the costume and I’m sure never dreamed that would happen. No gambling or card playing.
The only thing legally fun we could do, was sing and the Church had world known choirs. Big Choir – Cathedral choir that my mom was in and that Cam and I joined in High School and they sang every Sunday, Chancel Choir for the ones that couldn’t make Cathedral, High School choir, Lyric – Jr Hi girls, Crusader Choir were the boys, a special audition only choir for kids – Wylie Chapel choir that sang every Sunday for 2nd service Junior Church, and the little kids – Carol Choir and we had bellringer choir for every age too. Personally, I think Wylie Chapel Choir was started as a way to control the choir kids that were on the loose when their parents were in Cathedral Choir because almost all of us were choir kids. But we were still on the loose summers.
In summers we raised hell. I remember when we found the hatch behind the organ pipes on the 4th floor and found out we could sneak out and look at the congregation far below. Some clown even pitched a paper air plane one Sunday, after that they remembered to lock the hatch. We dared people to go up and sit in the bell tower when the carillon was ringing. You only did that once. Your ears rang for days.
We played hide and seek in the basement and thru places we had no business being. We snuck off to the corner liquor store for candy and soda. We basically did all the things we had no business doing but did because we were bored and knew full well we shouldn’t. Someone invented a game where if you could get into the sanctuary when there wasn’t a service you could slide from the back of the church under the pews all the way to the front on your stomach. That was fine until you got splinters in your stomach.
But we also started Sunday School at age two after we left the Nursery. Bible verse memorization started at 4 or 5 so you knew some when you graduated with your cap and gown to First Grade Sunday School to 3rd Grade where you learned Bible Verses to earn your Bible with your name engraved in gold on the front of your black leather copy of KJV. I think there were about 25 things we had to learn. When we got to 4th grade we got Shields to put memory verses on that had to be recited to the Memory Work Ladies. My idea of torture since I have trouble memorizing anything that is longer than 4 lines and doesn’t have music. Which is why I sang the Doxology, The Apostles Creed, the books of the Bible, the Christmas Story from Matthew & Luke, Thank you Peanuts! And we got a shape for the verse to staple on our shield which represented the armor of God from Ephesians.
When we got to 7th grade we started catechism classes and had to learn the short and long catechism. I think I still have my catechism book somewhere. This was so we could join the church. At the end of the year we got interviewed by the Elders. I finally spilled that I was getting the tar beaten out of me by my dad and was told it was my fault and that I needed to “honour my father and mother.” Not the answer I wanted and I think that was what led to my final shut down and I refused to be baptized with the others. My best friend did and almost everyone else did and they chalked it up to being shy since it was before the whole congregation. Presbyterians dedicate babies not baptize so other than my baby sprinkle I never was baptized. (Dedication is for the parents to profess they will raise the child as a Presbyterian.)
The only reason I stayed after that I was held captive by being 12 years old in a church going household. We went to church 2 services on Sunday, (three on holidays) at least one choir practice and sometimes 2 or three practices and for Bible Study or youth events all the way through High School. On the way I was taught that Catholics weren’t Christian, they were idol worshippers. This led to feeling really weird and surreal the 2 years I worked at a Catholic girls camp. I learned that Baptists, didn’t read or study the Bible properly so they were stupid and they were histrionic because they yelled in Church and held their hands up in the air and believed in speaking in tongues and only loons did that. That we were not born again and Baptists had no clue about how to study and interpret the Bible, they were lazy and let the minister do it for them. I can remember Lloyd John Ogillvie’s first Sunday. He yelled, “And the people of God said Amen!” and there was dead silence while the congregation stared at him and didn’t answer “Amen”. And finally there came A very proper Scottish old woman’s voice from the balcony above the pulpit, saying, “WE DON”T DO THAT!”
We learned the difference between High and Low Episcopals and Lutherans and that the High variety might as well be Catholics because they couldn’t say the Lord’s Prayer properly and say debtors not trespassers.
We did learn some Hebrew to be able to better interpret scripture because the emphasis was to be able to critically think your way through scripture and it’s why I can literally talk circles around people who don’t know their Scripture. Better known as – how to have fun with Bible thumpers and idiots. Just ask them which version of the creation story in Genesis do they follow and watch the fun ensue. The only problem was critical thinking led me to question myself right out the Church.
While this church craziness was going on I was spending the summers with my maternal grandparents and my grandmother was a 180 degrees away from her very correct daughter. My grandmother was the free spirit who loved nature and she and grandpa dragged me all over Southern California to anywhere she felt I could learn something. I learned architecture on trips with them to see the buildings grandpa had designed. ( He worked for Hunt and Chambers) I learned charms and embroidery and divination sitting on her lap by her desk. I watched the ants march around the wrap around porch of the Craftsman house lying on my stomach and changing their pathways. We went to zoos and parks and tidepools and piers. We went to talk to the whales at Marineland. We walked and talked to the trees in the neighborhood. We planted in the garden. I learned about the Fair Folk. I learned about our clan’s history. I learned faery tales and myths and songs to sing to make things work. She basically covered the 7 gifts of Druidry from a child’s perspective. I’m not sure if that was by design or she planned it but I know she called it “What we do”.
I still retain somethings I learned in church. I don’t like fuss or grandstanding of fanciness in ritual for the sake of doing it. Everything should have meaning. I interpret what I read in context. I believe in research and then UPG and not the other way around. I don’t drink or smoke. I have a Presbyterian sense of humour. I prefer the intricate and educated to the Three Stooges/Jackass variety of humour. I still prefer critical thinking to taking anyone’s word for anything. I learned to question authority and I do and to know why I should or should not believe anything. I learned my sense of justice there. A lot of the Founding Fathers were Presbyterian including the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Witherspoon. I believe service is an important part of spirituality and we were to give service to others and one of the reasons I’m still a Girl Scout. So yes, being raised Presbyterian has had an influence on my paganism.