Thinking about various church experiences…

22 minute read

March 9, 2024, 8:30 AM

Recently, I found myself discussing the Vacation Bible School that my sister and I attended in the mid nineties while I was in middle school.  It came from a post on /r/exchristian on Reddit, asking, “What do you still have memorized?”  My first reaction was to cite the offertory song that this program had us sing while they passed the plate around.  In thinking about it, I was struck by how misplaced the priorities were when it came to what this offering was to be used for (more on that later).  But then it also led to my recalling various other church experiences that I had while growing up, and how much of a mixed bag these things were.  Some experiences were quite good, while some them were not exactly all rainbows and sunshine.

For some background, I attended church from 1989 to 2003.  I was never that much of a “religious” person to begin with, having spent the first eight years of my life without it.  My father grew up Jewish, and has practiced no religion of any kind for most of his adult life, i.e. he is ethnically Jewish, but does not follow the religion.  Meanwhile, Mom grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and attended church regularly until she began college, and then did not attend church at all from 1969 to 1989.  Thus my early formative years contained no significant religious indoctrination, short of attending a Baptist preschool during our first year in Rogers, and the religious side of things in that program was super light.  I don’t remember doing much religious stuff there short of a few trips to the sanctuary and the “God is great, God is good” prayer before our daily snack.  Outside of this, Mom would occasionally discuss religious subjects with me, though nothing too deep, but even then, I was kind of a skeptic.  When Mom would try to explain this “God” person, the way that he was described defied everything that I had observed in the world, and so I was like, okay, sure, and not really buying it, even at a very young age.  Likewise, I saw no purpose to the prayer that Mom and I did each night before going to bed for some time, because I never really thought that we were speaking to anyone other than ourselves.

Then in 1989, Mom finally found a church that she liked.  As I understand it, when we first moved to Arkansas in 1985, Mom had First Presbyterian Church in Rogers pegged as somewhere that she had wanted to go from the outset, but she was unimpressed with the minister that was there at that time.  By 1989, that guy had left and a new person had taken his place, and Mom liked the new guy a lot more.  We typically went to church on Sundays, we did the after school program that they did on Wednesday afternoons, and then we also did the Vacation Bible School week during the summer.

First Presbyterian, at least at that time, was pretty relaxed.  They took their religion seriously enough, but they didn’t take it so seriously that we couldn’t have fun.  The songs that they did with the kids were pretty good.  We never sang songs like “Jesus Loves Me” (which is a very obnoxious and grating song on its own merits, and even worse the way that it is typically used, where it teaches kids blind loyalty, i.e. it is because the magic book says it is without asking questions or doing your own research), instead singing songs that were fairly hip as far as kids’ songs went, and pretty catchy.  Vacation Bible School there was a weeklong thing held in late June, and it was a combined effort between our church, the local Methodist church, and the local Christian (Disciples of Christ) church, and it rotated between all of them about which church hosted it each year.  The music, which they ordered in on a tape, was top notch, with songs like “Friendimension”, “Camp Can Do”, and “Team Up with Jesus” (and if anyone knows where I can get audio recordings of these songs, let me know).  Those songs were pretty memorable, and didn’t speak down to the kids – at least as much as religious content can go in that regard.  The program was offered for elementary school-aged children there, and I did it as a sising fourth, fifth, and sixth grader.  For the younger kids, it was basically an extended Sunday school.  For the older kids entering fourth through sixth grade, i.e. the age group that I was in all three years, after gathering at the host church, they piled all of us into a bus and we were bussed out to Beaver Lake, where we had a loosely religion-themed day camp, and then the last day was a swim day.  So it was more about fellowship and physical activity than it was about indoctrination.  On the bus there and back, the day camp leader, David Artman, who wore a baseball cap that said “Captain Dave” on it (he was a pretty cool guy), led us through various songs to keep us occupied during the travel, with a mix between religious and non-religious.  It was a pretty fun time, overall.  Sure, it was religious, but not obnoxiously so.

On each of the five days, at the beginning of the day before everyone went off into their individual groups, an offering was taken.  It was never a big deal, i.e. it was there, make a donation if willing/able, and move on with things.  The second year that I participated, the event had a camping theme, as this was the “Camp Can Do” year, and they set a goal for the offering.  That year, the main leader for the whole week’s activities, a guy named Duke Mobley (good guy overall, but he could be a little eccentric at times), put out a big camp-style cooking pot, and said that if we could completely fill the pot by the end of the week, he would allow a specific kid that he knew from my church to shave his head in front of everyone.  To that end, my sister and I brought our offerings as rolls of pennies.  It was a token amount, but it was intended to take up a lot of space.  We ultimately contributed 500 coins to that end, or about five bucks between the two of us.  Remember, it wasn’t the amount of money that counted, but rather, it was about filling the pot so that we could all watch Duke get his head shaved.  The goal was lofty, but certainly achievable.  I suspect that Duke knew that his hair was more than likely safe, but on the off chance that we met the goal, it wouldn’t be too difficult to go through with it, plus, after all, it’s just hair.  And by the end of the week, we had filled the pot about halfway.  For that, Duke let the aforementioned kid do half of the job, putting shaving cream on his head, but not actually shaving him (though that’s still pretty brave of him to even think about trusting a nine-year-old with a razor at all).  My point with this story, though, was that the offering was made into something fun.  They never explicitly said what the offering was going towards, but presumably, it went towards offsetting the costs of the program that we were all participating in.  After all, this stuff isn’t free.  Just thinking about our day camp, even if all of the adults were working on a volunteer basis and thus not getting paid (which was probably the case other than Captain Dave, who was First Christian’s full-time minister), there was a bus that came from the local school district that ran on diesel fuel, and that came with a driver.  Plus let’s not forget that the kids all needed to be fed.  The bus, the driver, the food, all of it cost money.  And for the younger kids that didn’t do the day camp, they had to purchase whatever educational materials that the program required.  And it’s reasonable that an offering would be used to help fund the whole thing.

Also, for what it’s worth, this particular Vacation Bible School program ended after elementary school.  The oldest kids were rising sixth graders, which, in Rogers at that time, was the final year of elementary school.  Kids in middle and high school did not participate in the program.  So having completed my third season at age 11, I figured that I was done with Vacation Bible School, having aged out of it.  It wasn’t a good or a bad thing that I had aged out of it, but it was time to move on all the same, and I was mentally prepared to put Vacation Bible School in my past.

It is also worth noting that my church experience in Rogers was pretty positive overall.  I liked the relaxed environment that they fostered, and how they took themselves seriously enough, but not too seriously.  My take on it as a kid was that church was pretty fun, and as an adult, I recognize that they went to much effort to make sure that it was fun for us.  Of all of the bad experiences that we had in Rogers, church wasn’t one of them.  I was the only kid from my school that went there, which meant that there were no kids with preconceived notions about me based on school experiences, and that was a good thing.  During our three years at First Presbyterian in Rogers, I felt comfortable there, I felt accepted there, and from the outset, I felt like I belonged, even if I never really bought into the whole God thing.

Then in August 1992, we moved to Stuarts Draft, Virginia, and worked through all of the various life changes that come with moving halfway across the country to a new town.  We had a new house, I went to a new school, and we quickly found a new church in Finley Memorial Presbyterian Church, which was right in Stuarts Draft, about two miles away from our house.  This was certainly a change from what I was used to.  First Presbyterian in Rogers was a mid-sized church that was housed in two buildings, with the sanctuary, some Sunday school rooms, choir space, and storage space in the original, older building, and a second, more modern building containing offices, more Sunday school rooms, and a large fellowship hall with kitchen space.  Finley Memorial, on the other hand, was a small church.  It was all one building that had been expanded a few times over the years with some fairly small additions, and they had a much smaller membership than First Presbyterian.  It had the same basic spaces as First Presbyterian had in Rogers, but it was arranged differently and was a lot smaller.  It was still part of the same denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), but it was a very different experience.  While I felt fully accepted right away by the kids at church in Rogers, it took a very long time for me to reach something resembling that level of acceptance amongst the kids in this new church, whom I mostly interacted with through the youth program, and I really only felt more accepted by the youth of the church as people aged through the program and new people came in who never knew a youth program without my being a part of it.  In other words, attrition worked to my advantage, as I was originally very much the outsider, the new kid who came from Arkansas, and then as the group evolved over the years, I went from being the new kid to being part of people’s baseline experience.

Additionally, since it was a small church in a small town, I went to school with almost all of these kids.  In Rogers, I benefitted from being the only kid from my school that went to my church.  Being a completely different group of kids, I didn’t have any school experiences coloring their opinions of me.  Now, in Stuarts Draft, we all attended the same school, so we would see each other in both environments, and experiences in one would color their perception in the other.  And let’s admit it: Schumin in the more secular environment of school was not necessarily the same Schumin as found in the more God-fearing environment of church.  They were different settings, and I responded differently in those settings.  I imagine that I am not unique in this regard.  I had appreciated that separation, and now I no longer had it.  Case in point, on my first time going to Sunday school at Finley Memorial, Jon Vanbreemen, who was also in my homeroom in school, loudly made an incredibly rude remark about not just having to see me at school, but now also in church, the moment that I walked through the door of the Sunday school classroom.  And I’d never even formally met the kid or knew who he was prior to that moment, so, way to make a great first impression with me.  Considering his more recent life activities, he really was a trash human being, so it was probably a good thing that he communicated that early on so that I could adjust accordingly.  There was also a girl who was a year older than me that I knew mostly through church and with whom I got along quite well in that context.  Then one day at school, she said some really horrible things to me about what she thought about me.  I was pretty hurt by that, in an I-thought-that-we-were-friends kind of way.  I didn’t want anything to do with her after that, because when no one’s parents were nearby compelling her to be nice, she showed her true colors, and clearly, we didn’t get along as well as I had believed that we did based on what she said.

The atmosphere at Finley never felt as relaxed as it did in Rogers.  For instance, Finley’s Wednesday night program, called “Logos”, and which was a new program for them in the fall of 1992, continued on into middle school at Finley (and technically also high school, though no high schoolers participated), but it was clearly geared towards the younger kids, and the middle schoolers were an afterthought.  I always took issue with programs that were very clearly geared towards younger kids, but included much older kids as well, because it always felt like the kids were being talked down to, and it also left the older kids out in the cold, because they were quite obviously catering to the bottom of the age range, and we were always just dealing with it until we could be split off from the rest of the group to do older-kids stuff.  Making things entertaining for all ages, and not being afraid to challenge the younger kids a little bit and maybe go a little bit over their heads and hope that they rise to the occasion, would have been helpful, because that would have been more inclusive, making all age groups feel like they’re part of the program, rather than being made to feel like they were really too old for the program, but who were only included because the leadership felt obligated to make space for them.

Finley’s Logos program was also a bit heavier on the religious side of things in general, putting faith over fellowship.  I preferred the opposite, putting fellowship first, with faith’s making a reasonable presence second.  Considering that I had limited patience for the religious side of things to begin with (think an, oh, Christ, they’re praying again? level of patience), I didn’t particularly enjoy it, though I did enjoy the choir part of it.  But I really didn’t appreciate when, during the classroom segment of the program, they issued us all books, and then had the gall to give us homework assignments.  Generally speaking, I take a dim view of entities’ unilaterally trying to make claims on my free time, because that is my time, and no one else’s.  I didn’t appreciate it when school made demands on my time outside of school via homework assignments, and as far as I was concerned, church definitely wasn’t allowed to do that.  As I saw it, Christian education needed to be completed at church, and outside of that, they didn’t get to make any demands of my time to complete work outside of class.

They also had a designated “homework time” at the beginning of each session, since we would come to church directly from school, and they actually enforced the doing of our homework from school.  I always tried to do my best to keep schoolwork at school, and as such, I would try to only do homework on school property whenever I could.  Yes, I was a firm believer in maintaining a healthy work-life balance very early on in life, even if I didn’t yet know what that was.  School stayed at school, church stayed at church, and my free time was my own, and never shall the three meet.  So I didn’t appreciate being told to hit the books by church people right after school, since that was not how I rolled.  I needed a mental break to let loose for a little bit before getting into church mode, so I really didn’t take well to being told to sit down and do my schoolwork at church, because I had no mental break.  I also felt that it was not their place to make us do our schoolwork in the first place.  Compare to the similar program in Rogers, where the first thing that we did was have some play time, i.e. we could let loose for a little while and burn off some energy before coming back together for the meat and potatoes of things.  I did that program at Finley for three years, and absolutely hated it for two of them.

The only year that I enjoyed the Logos program was in seventh grade.  That year, the program ran a very abbreviated season due to the church building’s undergoing a renovation from the late summer until the early spring.  With the sanctuary and the fellowship hall’s being offline for construction, they didn’t have enough space to house the program until the renovations were done.  With its happening so late in the year, much of what made the program bothersome for me was omitted because they didn’t have enough time to do it, and it was also an evening program, i.e. we did not go there directly from school.  The result was something much closer to the Wednesday program in Rogers, being more casual, relaxed, and fun.

In eighth grade, with the renovations complete, Logos was back at its full September-to-May length, and participants once again came there directly from school.  The only reason that I participated that year was because of the fond memories that I had of the much-improved abbreviated season, i.e. I thought that they had actually learned some lessons following the 1992-1993 season, and had made changed, considering what I observed during the shortened spring 1994 season.  But unfortunately, the lighter atmosphere of that season did not return, as they went back to their original, much more overbearing format, for which I had even less patience now that I was a little older.  Though in all cases, the choir part was fun all three of those years, but that was about it.  I stuck it out through my eighth grade year, but resolved fairly early on in that year that it would be my last in Logos, and that I would not return to that program the following year, as I had determined that I was too old for that nonsense and didn’t like how they treated us.  In other words, I may not have formally aged out of the program, but I was ready to move on from it.  I ended up joining the adult choir, and did that throughout high school.

Vacation Bible School in Stuarts Draft was similarly not good.  For starters, the conventional Vacation Bible School-type experience was a new thing for Finley Memorial in 1993, as that was the first year that they ran such a program, teaming up with Stuarts Draft Mennonite Church (now Stuarts Draft Christian Fellowship) for this program, which occurred in late June.  Prior to this, Finley had held an evening event for the entire family over a span of three nights later in the summer, called “Finley Celebrates”.  I have no opinion on that event, because I never attended it.  We moved to the area the week before Labor Day in 1992 (i.e. we missed the event), and the last year that the event was held was in 1993, occurring while we were out of town on vacation.  After 1993, they fully embraced Vacation Bible School with the Mennonites, and Finley Celebrates was no more.  Additionally, unlike the program in Rogers, this one was open to children in middle school, i.e. I was back in a program that I had thought that I was too old for.  After all, over the previous three years, I had been conditioned to the idea that children aged out of Vacation Bible School after sixth grade, as this was where the program in Rogers ended.  I was now a rising seventh grader, and I had mentally moved on from it long ago.  And now here I was doing it some more, despite having mentally moved on from it and having put it behind me.

That first time that the two churches ran the program together was pretty rough.  Put simply, this was not a new project that Finley Memorial had embarked upon with Stuarts Draft Mennonite.  Rather, they had joined in on an existing, well-established program that was used to operating a certain way, and despite its now being a joint program, it was still very much Stuarts Draft Mennonite’s program, and the Finley people were basically just tagging along.  Our minister did some singing in front of the group, and some of the classes were held in our church’s building, but it was still the Mennonite church’s program – and only their program – in just about every other way.  I don’t know about the other Finley people, but I really felt like I did not belong there.  Right out of the gate, on the first day, I was sitting in the Mennonite church’s sanctuary in a pew with the other kids in my age group.  The people leading the event called for the devotional group to go do their thing.  Everyone in my pew got up, and went into a room off of the left side of the sanctuary.  I figured that this was the point where our group was dismissed to go do older-kid things, so I left with them.  Cool.  However, as soon as I got back there, it was made quite clear that I was an outsider.  The devotional was a short skit that one of the Mennonite church’s Sunday school classes had worked on, and I was not a part of it.  So I got sent back to the sanctuary, and sat back in the now-empty pew, alone, while the other kids performed in front of the group.  Way to make someone feel like they belonged.  The rest of the days, when the people doing the little devotional performance got up, I stayed put, because I now knew that I was not involved in it.  It really made me feel like an “other” in a place where I was supposed to be made to feel welcome (this was a church, after all).

Then after singing far too many overly simplistic religious songs that they displayed on the wall with an overhead projector (yes, this program also talked down to the kids, and also tried a little too hard to make church “cool” for the kids), we all split out into our respective age-level groups.  My group made use of space at Finley Memorial, so I was thankfully back in familiar surroundings at my home church, even though I was practically the only Finley kid there, and our adult leaders were from the Mennonite church.  It also felt like I was back in school, because most of the kids in attendance were people that I had attended school with for the past nine months.  And let’s just say that I was not a particularly popular kid in school.  Most of the kids there already knew me from school, and had already decided that they did not like me, and that carried over to this environment as well.  Greeeeeeeeat.  Plus, this was no fun little outdoor day camp like the program in Rogers did with the older kids.  This was Bible class, which I especially felt like I was too old for.  Let the younger kids learn about Jesus during a week of intense all-day Sunday school.  As far as I was concerned, they should have done something else with the older kids that put all of those Jesus lessons from past years to work, like a service program or something where we could go out and do some good in the community.  I guess that would have been a little too Christ-like for them.  Instead, it was just more indoctrination.  They also, for some reason, separated us by sex, with all of the boys in one class, and all of the girls in the other.  I found that to be a bit bizarre (this wasn’t sex ed, after all), but I chalked it up to its being some weird Mennonite thing, since I didn’t know that much about the Mennonites’ particular flavor of Christianity, and a lot of religions like separating people by sex.  I was also turned off by what they were requiring of us.  They expected us to memorize Bible verses overnight and be able to recite them the following day, and also learn and then recite this whole big long thing based on, if memory serves, Isaiah 6, for the big ending event the following Sunday evening.  I was like, oh, hell, no at what they were asking me, as I failed to see the value in any of these rote memorization activities (I feel like being able to regurgitate the exact wording of Bible passages on command is far less important than forming a good working knowledge of what those passages mean), and I especially didn’t appreciate being given homework by people from another church whom I hardly knew, didn’t care anything about, and probably would never see again after the week was over.

The program also completed a quilt project, where every class decorated a square that was formed into this big quilt at the end of the week.  When it was finished, it was going to be displayed at the Mennonite church, and only the Mennonite church.  That made me feel quite resentful, because I felt as though I had worked on this project just like everyone else, and never got to show it off to my own church family for them to appreciate.  It certainly cemented the idea that Finley Memorial, despite their being a formal partner in the program, was really something of an afterthought, and that they really needed their cooperation only to be able to access additional space in their church building.  I imagine that quilt project would have been better if they had made two quilts, with one going to each participating church, but that was not the case, as we instead put in a bunch of effort and got to share in none of the reward.

Then the icing on the cake was the way that they did the offering at this Vacation Bible School program.  I took issue with what our offering funds would be used for, as well as having to listen to and participate in one of the most obnoxious offertory songs ever.  The offering was presented as “Keyboards for Kenya”, and a later year was “Guitars for Ethiopia”.  The idea in both cases was that our offering dollars would be used to purchase musical instruments for people in Africa for use in church during their worship services.  This is perhaps the whitest thing that these people could have possibly done.  They were asking us to give them our money in order to spend it on musical instruments for people that Europeans had previously colonized and converted to their own religion to use to help them practice their colonizers’ religion.  Forget about providing actual necessities or assistance with things that people in Africa might actually need.  Additionally, forget about helping out people in our own community by collecting money to donate to the Valley Mission (a local homeless shelter) the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, or the local Habitat for Humanity.  Nope.  Rather, we were spending money to buy luxuries to facilitate the indoctrination of colonized people overseas that we will never meet nor that we particularly care about.  Talk about a textbook example of the “white savior” complex, which, when you think about it, is really quite racist, and often does more harm than good.

And then there was the offertory song.  It went like this:

We’re on a missionary mission right here at VBS.
We have a great commission to do our very best!
And to help us reach our goal, each day we’ll do our part.
God loves a cheerful giver who gives from the heart!

That song would start out at a “normal” tempo, and then as the offering continued, the song repeated, each time at a faster tempo previously, until the offering was completed.  Here’s what the tune sounded like:

I thought that song was obnoxious in a similar way that such songs as “Jesus Loves Me” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” are, but with the extra, more sinister side of it, where it’s pressuring kids to give away money that they may or may not actually be able to afford to give because “God” wants them to.  Yeah, “God loves a cheerful giver who gives from the heart,” as the song says, but there’s also a tremendous amount of peer pressure being placed on very young people to empty their pockets because everyone else is.  Even more so when the offering is paying for luxuries rather than essentials.  After all, no one needs a keyboard or a guitar in order to survive.  If I’m being charitable towards poor people, I’m not supporting the purchase of luxury goods for churches to help with their indoctrination into Christianity.  That transitions things from pure charity to manipulation, as the charity then becomes the hook in order to get people in for the true goal, i.e. to get them to give up their existing religious beliefs and convert to Christianity, i.e. “my religion is better than yours”.  And if we’re going to be completely honest, if someone is that badly off, “God” has failed them in every way imaginable.  In other words, leave these people alone and let them be.

I admit that a lot of that discussion about the offering is adult me speaking from the perspective that comes with 42 years on this Earth, i.e. I am much older and wiser now than I was in 1993.  However, 12-year-old me also felt that something was really off about the whole thing as well, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time, from the extremely obnoxious song to the reason that we were being asked to pay up in the first place.  And for what it’s worth, I’m also no big fan of the song that Presbyterian churches tend to use as a doxology following the offering, i.e. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow”, which uses the “Old 100th” tune.  I couldn’t help but think that through this song, we were all saying that people’s wallets and checkbooks were God, because that’s where those “blessings” had really come from.

After that first day of Vacation Bible School was over, I was so unimpressed with and offended by the whole program that I didn’t want to go back for the second day, and said as much.  Mom somehow talked me into giving them a second chance, and I managed to suffer through the rest of the week’s activities, a time when we were talked down to and had all kinds of religion shoved down our throats, while I was amongst people from school who did not like me.  It was awkward as hell, but I somehow completed it, but I vowed never to do it again.

However, the following summer, Mom managed to convince me to give Vacation Bible School one more chance.  Apparently, with more time to reflect and work on things, they had worked out some of the kinks from the previous year.  For one thing, the theme was a little more lighthearted.  Rather than 1993’s “Of all God’s creatures great and small, Jesus loves you most of all” theme, the 1994 theme was “Come to the Party – Celebrate Jesus”.  It was still cheesy, but it was much improved compared to the somewhat creepy-sounding theme that we were subjected to in 1993.  Even the devotional skits, which were still a sore point with me up to that point, improved and actually came full circle, as I got roped into doing them as a duo with another person that I knew from my church.  So no one was left in the awkward position of being sent back to the sanctuary while the entire rest of the group got lined up to perform, because it was just two people up there and not a whole group.  They still sang the overly simplistic songs for the kids and did the awful “missionary mission” song again (this was the “Guitars for Ethiopia” year), but the classroom part of it seemed to have been improved as well, as it was not segregated by sex this time, but rather, while our age group was still trucked over from Stuarts Draft Mennonite to Finley Memorial, and we were still separated into two groups, people were placed into the two groups randomly, with no regard to what they had going on between their thighs, i.e. it was fully coed, like it should have always been.  I’ve noticed that in mixed environments, kids tend to be a bit better behaved than they are when they are separated by sex.  That I remember little about it beyond that tells me that it went a lot better, and it wasn’t so traumatic for me that year if it made so little of an impression on me.

We skipped the VBS program in 1995, I believe because of a scheduling conflict with a school-sponsored summer enrichment program that we were in.  Then in 1996, the program had shifted from daytime to evening, and we did it again one more time.  This time, Mom convinced me to participate because someone that I really respected from our church was doing the high school group, and I did it mostly for them.  That year, the theme was “Jambo”, as in the Swahili word for “hello”.  I don’t remember what the offering was for that year, or if there even was one at all, but that obnoxious offertory song was gone, at least as far as I could tell.  Good.  And the best part about the 1996 program was that despite its being a coproduction with Stuarts Draft Mennonite once again, except for the opening event on the first day, the kids in my age group reported directly to Finley Memorial, and we were dismissed from there as well, i.e. we had minimal exposure to all of the theatrics that the Mennonite church liked to put on.  No one mentioned “Jambo” ever again after that opening event.  I appreciated that environment, though, because I was in my home church, our leader was someone from my home church, and it felt like an activity that would occur at my home church.  In other words, I was actually comfortable.  That week went pretty well, and was a good way to close out my Vacation Bible School career, as I had gotten a job with the phone company the following summer, and so I had no more time for Vacation Bible School after that.

Finley later stopped doing Vacation Bible School with Stuarts Draft Mennonite, though I don’t know exactly when that changed or what prompted the change.  I do, however, remember that they later took the program fully in-house, running it all themselves.  I know nothing about that program, as it occurred after I had stopped attending regularly, as during college, campus ministry was church as far as I was concerned, and was more fellowship-based, which I also appreciated.

So I guess that you could say that church was something of a mixed bag for me.  It had its good parts and its bad parts, however, unlike in school, where a lot of the bad parts were intentionally directed towards me, I feel like the bad parts in church were done with noble intentions, and the problem was with the extremely poor way that these programs were executed.  It’s also possible that because of my true beliefs on religion that these things may have grated on me more than with others.  In other words, it’s one thing to suffer through these sorts of programs in the first place, but it’s a whole different thing to have to suffer through them when they’re done poorly.  Though I admit that for being someone who never really bought into the whole Christianity thing, I gave it a good-faith try all the same.  And I’d say that I handled it well enough, though I’m certainly glad that I have largely put organized religion behind me.  For those of you who find value in it, that’s great, but I have come to understand that religion is not for me, and there’s nothing wrong with that.