I was born into a church that was commonly called “The Hat Church” by people in our community. Another term used to describe members of my church was “grifs”. The church was a Dutch Reformed Church that my mother grew up in. My father grew up in a different Reformed church, but became a member of my mother’s church as a part of their marriage agreement. If I had to choose just one word to describe the church, it would be “legalistic”. If I had to choose just one word that depicted the opposite of the church, it would be “grace”. Women were required to wear a head-covering during worship as well as long skirts/dresses. Women were not allowed to wear earrings or make-up, as those things were considered vanity. Men were to keep their hair short, and only men were able to attend or vote at congregational meetings. Secular music, televisions, internet (which came years later), movies, dancing, and even drums were considered evil and were outlawed by the church leaders. (I’d like to insert a picture into your mind here…imagine, if you would, a 7th-grade school band without percussion. Yes. That was us.)
My parents were members of the congregation, however, they were not “saved”. By that, I mean that they recognized the importance of the triune God, but they had not accepted the gift of salvation. My brother and I attended the parochial school , and I imagine that my parents hoped that the school would teach us all the ins and outs of our faith since they were ill-equiped. We did not talk about God at home. We prayed before and after meals. My father read the Bible (King James Version, of course), and we said memorized prayers before bed. We went to church twice on Sundays and attended Sunday School and catechism classes. We did all of these things, but Jesus was not a member of our family.
When I was in the 6th grade, my parents purchased a small television set and hid it. When there was an exciting sporting event or interesting investigative news program on the television, the TV was taken from its hiding place. My brother and I were sworn to secrecy. We were never to tell anyone that we owned a television.
My grandparents were devout in the legalistic faith. They did not own a television, and my grandfather was quite preachy and never hid his disappointment of his children or grandchildren if they were failing to walk in a way that was acceptable to the church. My brother and I were coached on not telling my grandparents that we had a TV…but if they happened to ask, don’t lie. “Just say that the TV is just for news and sports, but only if they ask.” It was a legalistic loophole. We hid who we were without blatantly lying. Being alone with my grandparents was nerve-wracking as I was afraid that they would pump me for information on our life at home, and that I would be forced to expose our secrets. The television wasn’t the only secret we held. We didn’t have any bodies buried under the basement or anything, so it was nothing real big. It was just everything little. We were to hide the fact that we sometimes vacationed over a Sunday, and my mother even bought some bread and cheese from a grocery store on a Sunday. “I’ll never forgive myself for this,” I heard her say. We would go to friends’ homes on Saturday nights, and my parents would get good and liquered up…but we always made it to Sunday morning service where we were dressed in our very best, appearing as any good Dutch Reformed family would.
We were all going to hell. I knew that I was hell-bound from the time I knew what hell was. I knew that Jesus died for “His people”, but that probably did not include me. The church embraced predestination with ferocity. Sit and wait for God to convert you from a dirty wretched sinner to a dirty wretched saved sinner. But you will more than likely go to hell because most people do and because you deserve it. So, fill your pew, but live life to the fullest because it doesn’t really matter anyway.
I believed that for 29 years. I had accepted my fate of spending eternity in hell. And then there was an event in my life that can only be described as a spiritual awakening.
There is grace after all.