There’s a story that my grandmother constantly tells people about an incident that happened at church when I was about 8 or 9 years old. She tells it so proudly and with fervor, that if she ever found out the truth about the incident, it would probably break her heart. Thankfully she doesn’t have the internet, so the chances of her learning the truth probably won’t happen any time soon. This is what happened. During an outdoor tent revival that my grandmother’s church was holding in Newark, New Jersey, people were becoming ‘overwhelmed’ with the ‘holy spirit’. They would pass out on the wood chip covered ground and spoke in tongues. It looked fun, so I followed suit. I fell out and laid on the ground, and repeated, “Shamballa shamballa honda shamballa.” How was I supposed to know my grandmother really thought I was being touched by the holy ghost? But she did, and still does. After all of these years, and all of the times she’s told the story, I just let her bask in it.
Growing up, church was forced on my siblings and I. In our early years living in Rochester, New York, my father was a member of the church band and my mother was the dutiful Pentecostal wife. Every Sunday, we would make our way to church and sit there for hours. Apparently my father didn’t learn much in church, because eventually my parents separated because of his cheating. The church didn’t save their marriage, but it did get their tithes every Sunday.
Once we moved to New Jersey, we were thrust into another church. This time it was my grandmother’s Pentecostal church in Newark. The church’s congregation consisted of mostly poor and elderly people. I would cringe when my grandmother would reach into her purse to give her last few dollars, knowing how hard she worked cleaning houses that week. I remember one time she gave me a dollar to place in the offering bucket and I didn’t. You see, I knew the size of the preacher’s house and the fancy cars he had, while we were living in a small house with about seven people. My dollar was better off going towards candy and potato chips.
Eventually both my mother and grandmother grew tired of the Pentecostal church and started to attend a non-denominational mega-church by the time I was about 11. The church’s congregation was diverse, with all types of ethnicities and the pastor was Italian. There were activities and classes for kids and teens, so they wouldn’t have to sit in the main service with their parents, bored out of their minds. This was the first time I actually started to enjoy going to church, but it was short-lived. I eventually learned that the church was filled with sinners, and once they entered the church all of their sins were laid down at the altar, but once they left church, it was back to sinning. I can’t even begin to count the scandals that went on at that church. From pastors leaving their wives for other women in the congregation, to teens getting pregnant during the summer away camp, it was a never-ending story of drama. By the time I was 14, my mother stopped forcing us to attend church. She wouldn’t bother waking us up on Sunday mornings, because she knew our disdain for it.
It’s been about eight years since I stepped foot into a church. But in saying that, I’m also not saying that I’m not a ‘believer’. There’s always this misconception that people assume just because I don’t attend church that I’m an Atheist or Agnostic. I just don’t feel the need to believe in the concept of a church. I also don’t believe in funding the church as a business. My 10% isn’t going towards Jesus. It’s going to the pastor’s salary, his mortgage, his car payment and that fancy watch. Supporting the big business of the church isn’t helping me get into heaven any faster. While everyone wakes up to put on their Sunday’s best, I’m content with sleeping in and being spiritual in my own little way.
This article first appeared in Clutch magazine on 18 September 2012.