I attended church with my parents all of my childhood in New York, and our Sundays and sometimes Saturdays were taken up by church activities. Korean Methodist Churches across Queens and Long Island, even though my grandparents and the rest of my family attended a Presbyterian church. My parents felt less restricted as Methodists, and I didn’t really know the difference when I was young. I attended Sunday School and colored in with crayons the robes of disciples and their horses, and memorized Bible verses for contests in the Sunday School chapel.
All the churches served refreshments after services, and the more money the church had the better the refreshments. I didn’t know when I was in Sunday School just how vicious the gossip was in certain church social groups. I didn’t know until later just how much the Korean church circle revolved around money. The families who most often gave the biggest “special offerings” had more power in the church. Once I found out all of it out I eventually left the church.
The rest of my family, nearly all of my elders still attend church, and pun intended, religiously. The thing is I have so many good memories of being church girl, even if I never intend to return to one. It’s just not on my list of priorities right now.
Growing up in the church it was a high priority in my “former” life though…
My parents were well-regarded in the Korean church community, and partly because their tithes were most welcome. We had a family business and the church was aware of what we made weekly. We got dressed up, as a family, and went to church Sunday morning and came back home Sunday evening.
I went on sleep-away retreats and grew up with church friends outside of our Sundays. I led the youth group and played piano in the gospel band. I later found a better calling in the church and taught Sunday School to pre-schoolers, with whom I still keep in touch with. They’re grown and married and having babies. Their babies are Noah’s age, and a reminder that mothers come in all ages and shapes and sizes.
In high school I grew weary of the politics and hypocrites with Bibles all around me, and I began to resent the church. Other Korean churches weren’t any better, and so I tried seeking out “alternative” congregations but didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere for the first time. I believe God lost his shine, for me, and I mean that.
When I started at NYU, a new boy arrived at our church and sat in on the youth service. I was in college and he was in high school, and we eventually started dating. He and I dated in secrecy for two years against my parents’ wishes, and against the church’s wishes. The church was cruel to us when they found out. I never knew at the time that my own parents had met in church and fallen in love and scandal, so I didn’t know then why my parents were so against my new church love.
On the surface you’d never know it, but in dark corners and secret grapevines there was a church-wide buzz about my “probably sexual” relationship with the new boy at church. The congregation didn’t want troublesome love stories coming out of their church, and it’s almost as if they wanted my family to wear scarlet letters upon our chests. So I left the church. My parents eventually left the church, after a lifetime of devotion.
These memories were triggered today because I just now heard More Than Words on the radio, and I remember teeny boppers of the church youth group always wanting to learn to play it. The chords are stuck in my head in perpetuity. It was always More Than Words or something Eric Clapton that all the kids wanted to be able to play. It was cool. Is it still cool?
Did I really write a blog about church?
Oh, and guess who the boy was…he later ended up on me on Big Brother. That was another buzz around church. My old church.