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In Praise of the Church Lady

God manages to use dubious characters to shape our lives.
2005This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

I was overchurched as a child. The prevailing ethic of our church community dictated that "every time the church doors are open you should be there." Whether our family actually succeeded in this, I am not sure. But, at any rate, my childhood memories are filled with those of my reluctant but compulsory attendance at more church gatherings than I thought I could bear.

What stands out in my boyhood memories is an assortment of odd characters. I can recall being sternly warned by one member not to eat snow because it had been poisoned by Nikita Khrushchev. An elder of the church adamantly maintained on more than one occasion that we had not "evoluted." A brigade of lay evangelists confronted devout Lutherans or Presbyterians—or even people who had been baptized in the right way but with the wrong idea—on their doorsteps, unblinkingly informing them that they were destined to be cast into the lake of fire unless they converted (i.e., joined our church). These guys made the Sanctified Brethren of Lake Wobegon look like Unitarians. There was Al, who, upon greeting you at the church door with a handshake, would inexplicably pull your hand up into his moist underarm. I learned quickly to enter church through the side door. There was Mr. Reed, an elderly man who sat in the choir, facing the congregation, and had the rather dispiriting habit of elaborately—even ceremoniously—hacking phlegm from his deepest recesses and then, predictably, leaning forward to spit it into the carpet in front of his seat.

We also had our share of hypocrites: the volunteer youth sponsor who, though recently married, attempted to seduce half of the teenage girls in the youth group; the other volunteer youth sponsor who succeeded in seducing ...

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