Sunday, February 22, 2015

Escaping Church with Shaun Cassidy

Rock Island, Fall 1977

When I was a kid, I hated the Nazarene church.

1. Hour-long sermons three times a week, with dull funereal hymns from a hundred years ago, full of "thou hasts" and "wilt thee."

2. The preacher pacing the stage and pounding his Bible and screaming about how evil the world was.

3. Excruciatingly long altar calls, where the backsliders and the sinners had to go to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and beg and whimper and sob for God's forgiveness from their sins.

4.  And there were lots of sins.  God hated movies, cards, games with dice, swimming, dancing, short pants, long hair, earrings, bad words, Catholics, comic books, restaurants that served alcohol, carnivals, circuses, rock music, science fiction, and evolution.

5. And the three sermons per week were just the beginning.  There was Sunday school, Nazarene Young People's Society, Afterglow, choir practice, Calling (visiting people who had missed last Sunday), Canvassing (knocking on doors of strangers to try to Win them for Christ),

Having a school activity or a lot of homework was excuse enough to skip the weeknight activities, but the Sunday morning and evening services were another matter.  You had to go.  No exceptions.  I tried various ways to get out of it:

1. "I don't want to go to church!" That didn't work, even if I started to cry.

2. "I have a lot of homework to do."  It worked during the week, but not on Sunday.  It was a sin to do work on Sunday. You had the whole weekend.

3. "I have an upset stomach!"  Foolproof, right?  No one can say that you don't.  But then my parents would sneakily serve fried chicken and apple pie for Sunday dinner, with some thin soup and jello for me.

4. "My friend invited me over for a sleepover Saturday night."  Nope.  First I had to be actually invited to a sleepover, and then Dad would pick me up Sunday morning early enough to get to church on time.

5. "My favorite tv program is on!"  Nope.  You'll just have to miss it.

In junior high and high school, I attended regularly, due to my fondness for the jump quiz and Verne, the Preacher's Son, and because I wanted to be chosen to go to Switzerland for the Nazarene International Institute.

But during my senior year, Verne was gone, Switzerland was over, and the preacher had discovered "homa-sekshuls,"

I wanted out.  

I thought of the "what girl do you like?" interrogations of my parents and practically every other adult.  They were so obsessed with compiling evidence that I was wild about girls that I could get away with anything, from coming in after curfew to losing my new jacket, just by claiming that I had been trying to impress a girl or meet girls.  

Why did you sign up to fight tigers? "I heard there would be girls in the audience."

Why did you jump out of the airplane?  "There was a girls' school below."

Getting out of the Sunday evening service was easy:

6. "I want to stay home to watch The  Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries," with Shaun Cassidy, Parker Stevenson, Pamela Sue Martin."

You have a crush on Pamela Sue Martin!  Great!  Wonderful!  Stay home and watch her all you want!

Later I tried Wayne, I mean Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H.

Sunday morning was a little harder.

7. "A girl invited me to her church."  No -- I would actually have to get a girl to invite me, and then it would just be more church.

8. "I want to go to the library to study.  There will be girls there."  No -- the library was closed on Sunday.

Ok, think!

Awhile ago, church princess Debbie Stark asked me to go with her to the Afterglow, the teen party after the evening service.

When I refused, she stared at me for a moment as if she had never heard such nonsense, then flounced off in a huff.  Ever since, neither she nor her cronies would talk to me.

9. "I can't go to church -- Debbie won't talk to me!"

Rejected by the girl of your dreams! My parents commiserated.  Heartbreaking!  Of course you can stay home!

I still had to go on occasion.  But it was a start.

See also:The Backslider at the Ponderosa Steak House

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