When I was young my family attended the Grace of God Baptist Church in my home town; it was a Pentecostal church, the oldest in the area and was very small and back woodsy compared to many in the nearest city. Sunday service was an all day affair beginning in the morning and running sometimes until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening with a community wide get together in the afternoon to share a meal and catch up with neighbors and was as often as not attended by everyone in town – members or not.
About twice a year we’d hold revivals and the weather permitting on the Sunday following the last night of it any one who ‘had been saved or had given their life over to The Lord’ were led down to the river for baptism along with all the others who had ‘Come to The Lord’ during the winter or the Spring floods when the river couldn’t be utilized.. This was also a time of re-dedication for those who had chosen to become missionaries or enter the ministry – and believe it or not in those days there were quite a few.
Back then Sarah and I were best friends, we had been born about 3 hours apart on a summer’s night; my Grandmother had delivered both of us. We’d grown up doing everything together so it was to be expected that when Sarah decided a few weeks before our 13th birthday on the second night of the Autumn Prayer Revival to go to the alter and ‘get saved’ I would join her. Somehow though my feet wouldn’t move and Sarah became a Christian on her own. After that things weren’t the same between us.
With her Baptism and the subsequent studies required for all new Christians Sarah had no time to just hang out and by the time school started we were drifting apart. Then she dropped a bombshell. Just before Spring break she told me she was leaving on a missionary retreat and though her calling was still to serve she was being led into the mission fields of Burma and China and would therefore not be going with me to The Peace Corps when we graduated so while she was applying to Mission School our Junior year I was planning a summer of marches, fun and playing Hippie before our Senior year.
By the time school started in the fall Sarah was engaged to another mission candidate and it seemed the only time we spoke was when she was trying to convert me. The week following Graduation she became Mrs David Hardwick and she and The Reverend left for a small church somewhere in Alabama where he was to serve as Youth Minister while they both attended college.
My road led West and eventually to The Goddess and Paganism and I soon came to find out that my family though fine upstanding members of the church I grew up in practiced and followed The Olden Ways in their lives and in our home – they had always said it was just tradition. Herbal medicines, leaving food out for the Wee Folk, planting by the moons, candles and altars and even the rituals and blessing we practiced were just things my grandparents brought from the old country and they weren’t the only ones in our small mountain community who practiced them. Church for many of us was a place of Social Gatherings and our worship was done privately.
I also quickly discovered that Grace of God was not a typical church. Women held positions of power and were even permitted to preach as long as they didn’t step on any toes or rock the boat in any way. Not exactly earth shaking but still quite liberal for the times