Right after the high of the Youthciple experience, I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to “do.” So, I just kept going to church. But certain things didn’t set well with me. First, I didn’t like how so many kids my age just started dropping out. It was hard to keep going to MYF when I knew so few people, and I wasn’t the most outgoing person to boot. They were all from different middle and high schools – I didn’t know them! And I didn’t like how so many things we were taught in Sunday School didn’t seem to play out in daily life.
For example, I remember one of us teens asking one of our Sunday School teachers about what they thought about living together before marriage. (This was in the 70s, for context.) And the teacher responded, well, I don’t think a piece of paper makes a marriage. Wow! That made an impression. That wasn’t what the church was officially teaching – at least from what I read in the Bible. So that was confusing. And then another time we were driving to church one day past the Baptist church’s new sanctuary. I remember asking my dad, how did they build such a big church? And Dad said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, well, Baptists believe in tithing. I thought to myself, well, don’t we? Don’t we read the same Bible and believe the same things? Very confusing.
As I learned more about the history of the Methodist movement, I loved learning about John and Charles Wesley, as well as George Whitefield, an evangelical Anglican who preceded them in preaching in the open air to the poor of England. The revival they initiated was credited with saving the soul of England – and some historians said it was even possible that their work prevented the same kind of revolution in England that overtook France.
Do all the good you can,-John Wesley (1703-1791)
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
But the Methodist church of the 1970s didn’t seem to have the same fervor of Wesley or Whitefield. Instead, our church was focused on making language less “patriarchal.” I’ve always loved the musicality and beauty of the traditional English language in our services. As George Bernard Shaw said in Pygmalion, “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.”
And here in the 70s the church was watering down this wonderful inheritance. We couldn’t enjoy our birthright of hearing these phrases each Communion Sunday: “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intent to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort, and make your humble confession to almighty God.” Instead, we got “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.” Still beautiful, still true – but can you hear the difference? And it leaves out so much. Where’s the call to humility? “Living in peace with each other” doesn’t have the same ring as “following the commandments of God” or “walking from henceforth in his holy ways.”
But even that, as jarring to my ear as it was, wasn’t the ultimate affront to my stern, traditionalist-in-the-making sensibilities. It was recycling. Sometime during my high school years, our church took stewardship of the earth to mean we had to recycle EVERYTHING. Using the just right cups at coffee hour after service was vital. No more Styrofoam!! It struck me as insane that so much emphasis was placed on recycling, rather than, say, personal holiness. Or teaching the gospel. It seemed like we were spending all our time digging worms instead of fishing.