“If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”
— Christopher Hitchens
Melissa asked me if I wanted to attend church with her for a Snickers bar. She would often tell me I was going to go to Hell because I didn’t go to church. I didn’t really care about Hell, but I really loved chocolate.
It was 1989, The New Kids on the Block had just release “Hanging Though” and I was nine. Melissa and I were schoolmates and shared a handful of mutual friends. She was quiet, wore green plastic rimmed glasses and often wore long dresses. I was surprised when she asked me to go with her. I was a tomboy, liked playing in the dirt and I almost exclusively wore jeans (unless it was picture day). I knew some kids went to church but I had never been. I was getting candy, so why not? My dad wasn’t keen on the idea, but I begged him and he reluctantly let me go. He told me I wouldn’t like it.
We never had a Bible in our home, never prayed or went to church. My mom was raised Catholic, but never taught me or any of my siblings about Jesus, God or any of the saints.
My mom had a statue of Jesus and a saint. She would often pray or talk to them. My dad never prayed to them, and his distancing from her religious practices made my mom look crazy. My mom claimed the statues watched us while they were away. They often left us home alone and we were scared of the statues until we accidentally knocked them over and one of their head’s popped off. My brother and I truly thought that somehow these statues would tell on us. Imagine our surprise when we realized they made up the stories to keep us in line.
I asked for my Snickers as soon as I got on the church bus and saw Melissa. She was super happy to see me and saved a seat for me next to her. She beamed and bragged to the other church members on the bus she had brought me. She gave me my chocolate and I was happy.
The building was like many of the churches I would see in the future. I ignored the message board while I exited the bus and entered the church with Melissa. I was mesmerized by how clean and new everything felt. We sat down and waited for the service to start.
The auditorium was vast. I don’t remember what we sang or if we sang at all. I remembered being saved. There was a hush of silence as the preacher began his Sunday ritual. He acknowledged the new faces then proceeded to start the first prayer. As the members of the church had their heads down in prayers, the preacher asked anyone who had not been saved to stand up and come to the front. I was confused. Melissa looked over to me and in a whisper told me I should go up. I did. I was then taken to another room with a handful of other children to be saved. I was still confused. Was this a shot I was getting? What is it to be saved? From what? I knew I had all my shots and figured my parents would have taken me to get “saved” if it was important… nevertheless here I was. The adults asked us to gather in a circle. Then they prayed with us and asked us to let Jesus into our hearts. Still confused I did as everyone was doing. Then I was saved. I was asked if I felt the Holy spirit and I wanted to say no but instead I said yes… just like the other kids.
On our way back home Melissa asked if I wanted to come again next week. I asked if there was going to be any candy. She said no.
I didn’t understand why anyone would want to go to church. Dad was right. My dad is the “I told you so” type of daddy. Richard my brother was curious and he would eventually follow the same path as I did, except I think he got a Kit Kat.
Melissa and I didn’t continue to become friends. Instead she grew resentful towards me because I’d only go to church for candy. I was going to Hell according to her and I was a sinner.